Honour killings, terrorist acts, the war in Iraq … in his song texts, the successful Muslim rapper Ammar114 criticises the injustice done both by and to Muslims. Nimet Seker spoke to him about his lyrics
What does the number 114 in your name stand for?
Ammar114: The Koran is made up of 114 sura, each of which rhymes. This book unites all Muslims around the world at all times. These 114 sura touched my heart and changed my life. The song "114 rhymes that move you" from my new album Out of the shadow, into the light reflects the love, strength, and fascinating signs that can be found in these 114 chapters of the Koran.
You have no inhibitions about openly addressing political issues in your songs. The song "In the name of democracy" is one example. How did these songs come about?
Ammar114: Have you ever heard of the case of a certain Mr Khafagy? Some time ago, he spoke to the one of the German parliament's committees about the dreadful things he experienced in a European torture prison in 2001. This man had nothing to do with violence or terrorism and it has been proven that he was held unlawfully in one of these infamous prisons.
I rap about this story in the first verse of "In the name of democracy". Since this song was released in 2004, not one single person has asked me about this first verse. Not a single newspaper, not a single reporter has ever shown even the slightest bit of interest in it. Instead, the song has been noted by the Federal Office of the Protection of the Constitution and the content taken totally out of context.
When I heard Mr Khafagy's story seven years ago, I was shocked and couldn't believe that something like that could actually happen. People constantly rub it under our noses that so much injustice is done in the name of Islam. Barriers are built and the flames of hate are fanned; only one side of the story is highlighted and some people are waiting impatiently for the clash of civilisations.
Back then, I asked myself how much injustice is done in the name of democracy. This story was followed by the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and an escalation of the situation in the Gaza Strip. All of these events, thoughts, and feelings inspired me to write this song. This is not about politics, but about personal destinies, countless lives, injustice, and brutal violence.
Your latest songs are also highly political. The song "5:32" is available for download on your website. What is this song about?
Ammar114: "Five 32" stands for a verse in the Koran that states the following: "If someone kills a person it is as if he killed all mankind and if someone saves someone's life it is as if he saved the life of all mankind." This is a clear statement that every devout Muslim should take to heart. The first verse of my song deals with juvenile delinquency. I comment about the young men who beat up an old man in the Munich underground and about the problem of juvenile delinquency in general.
The second verse deals with honour killings. I start the verse with a true story that happened in Garching near Munich. The third verse deals with the issue of terrorism. These are three terms that the public often associates with Islam.
With this song, I want to make it clear that it is not Islam that calls on people to do dreadful things like committing crime, honour killings, and terrorist acts. On the contrary, Islam expressly rejects and forbids such appalling acts as these. I hope that this song will help dispel prejudice and correct wrong impressions. I want it to reach anyone who has the wrong impression about Islam, regardless of whether they are Muslim or not.
Is your message getting through to the public?
Ammar114: I remember two young people coming to me after a performance and saying that this song in particular really made them think. Such situations always motivate me to continue, regardless of how hard it can be at times. I often get positive feedback about songs like "5:32" from non-Muslims too.
In your lyrics, you criticise American policy in Iraq etc. Are you not afraid that your political lyrics will be misunderstood?
Ammar114: I say what I have to say clearly and distinctly. My criticism is not violent, filled with hatred, or blind. Of course songs like "In the name of democracy" or "Hey George" are provocative, but that is in the nature of rap. Rap is provocative and direct. That being said, there is nothing to misunderstand. My lyrics are not aggressive or anything like that. Unfortunately, it is very often the media that change things around to meet their own ends and intentionally misunderstand what I am saying. But my message is clear and distinct.
What do you think of gangsta rap? Lots of kids model themselves on it.
Ammar114: Gangsta rap sounds cool. The sounds, the beats, the language … it all has to be cool. Gangsta rappers are selling a finely honed image: 'no rules' and 'you've gotta be more extreme than everyone else'! They are presenting an attitude to life that stands for violence, sex, and drugs. Lots of people model themselves on this. Rappers often shirk responsibility and say that their songs don't encourage anyone to do anything bad. They say that they are just showing life as it is on the streets; that they are reflecting reality.
Of course life on the streets is extreme, but what they are showing us on television is staged, distilled, and highly concentrated. It's all about sales figures and success, not about real life. The kids model themselves on their idols. I'm not saying that everything would be fine without gangsta rap or that gangsta rap is to blame for the degeneration of youth, but it does make a contribution to it. It feeds the system and supports the vicious circle instead of breaking out of it. Ultimately, everyone has to assume his or her share of responsibility and reconcile their actions to their heart.
Interview: Nimet Seker
© Qantara.de 2008
Translated from the German by Aingal Flanagan
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