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Syrian rapper Omar Offendum talks music and his homeland

Omar Offendum performs at Arab Hip Hop Concert during the 2012 Doha Tribeca Film Festival at Katara Sony Open Air Cinema on November 18, 2012 in Doha, Qatar.
Omar Offendum performs at Arab Hip Hop Concert during the 2012 Doha Tribeca Film Festival at Katara Sony Open Air Cinema on November 18, 2012 in Doha, Qatar.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Doha Film Institute

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It was recently announced that the U.S. will send two batteries of Patriot missiles and 400 troops to the Turkish border to help defend that country from any spillover violence from Syria. Syrian regime forces fired ballistic missiles into rebel held areas earlier this week, a move seen as an escalation of the 20-month-long civil war.

But international forces aren't the only ones responding to the violence of the regime. Some activist hip-hop artists have taken inspiration from the struggles of the rebels and they've begun incorporating the revolutionary messages of protesters into their songs.

Syrian-American rapper Omar Offendum joins the show to talk about his connection with his homeland and how he incorporates recovultionary messages into his music. 

Interview Highlights:

On the incorporation of real protest chants within some of Offendum’s music, particularly #Syria:
“Well, the "hook" is in fact probably one of the most famous slogans or taglines of the revolutions from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Syria to Yemen to, you know, Bahrain, and they are basically saying, ‘Ash-sha?b yur?d isq?? al-nidh?m’ the people want to topple the regime or desire to see the downfall of the regime. That, like I said, has rung true through all of these different kind of revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East. And in Syria in particular, a few school boys in a southern border town calle Dera’a, had actually spray painted that on a wall at their school. And this was back, you know, early early 2011, when the first kind of revolutions in North Africa started. And when they did that, they ended up getting apprehended by secret police in Syria and ended up getting tortured for days on end. And when they returned, when the police had returned them to their families, the whole town was in an uproar. And that was essentially kind of the first protest, if you will, in Syria and that’s what kind of sparked everything after that.

On the significance of titling songs #Syria and #Jan25:
“Well, I mean, it's just in reference to the fact that its a trending topic on Twitter. You know, we did that with a song that we released last year during the Egyptian revolution, we called it #Jan25 ... Syria was very much shut off from the world, and so citizen journalism was really kind of pushing this revolution. People were risking their lives day in and day out, going to protests filming them on their cell phones and on their cameras, and uploading that onto Youtube and keeping that motivation going on Twitter.

"Even to this day, I mean you can see, if you follow if you speak Arabic, if you follow kind of the Arabic tweets coming out of Syria, they can be very detailed. You know, they can literally say, Hey watch out on this particular street corner, there’s a guy who looks like he’s homeless and sleeping, but he’s actually a rat. Be careful. Like I mean it can get really really intensely detailed. So it’s just really become like a tool, more than anything, to help kind of facilitate a lot of the work that the activists are doing.”  

On the use of bilingualism, both Arabic and English, within Offendum’s music:
“It’s just a natural extension of the way that I grew up, the way that I was raised. You know, about 30% of that album, Syriana-Americana, is probably in Arabic. And that’s probably a good indication of my daily usage of the language.”

On the demystification and beauty of the Arabic language:
“Sometimes it’s cool to be able to code things in different languages. For me, it is also very freeing. Like the most beautiful thing about the Arabic language is how poetic it is. When you study Arabic, you know, poetry is the backbone of the language and so to be able to have a whole nother language and a whole nother ocean of vocabulary to be able to draw from. ”

On being banned from Syria and Offendum’s hope to be able to return one day:
“I will go back, you know, there’s no doubt about that in my mind. And my family will, and you know, everybody who has been living in exile for however long that they have been will go back, you know, I have no doubt about that. You know, to see what is happening today, sends chills down my spine when I think about what people had gone through and that barrier of fear that they broke. I mean that in itself is a triumph, the fact that they were able to move past that. And so, yes its a horrifically bloody violent chapter that we’re in right now, a phase that we’re in right now. But I do believe that we’ll be able to kind of bounce back from this and create a better, richer, stronger, freer Syria.”