A Q&A with the Socially Enlightened Rapper, Mona Haydar
Mona Haydar is the Syrian-American rapper devoting healing energy to the nation’s wave of bigotry and hate. Born in Flint, Michigan, Mona is the daughter of Syrian immigrants, who empowered the slam poet-turned-activist rapper, to live her life at the fullest extent- embodying the American Dream. More recent, Mona received her master’s degree in Christian ethics to gain knowledge and understanding on all spectrums in today’s increasingly divided nation. In hopes of remedying division and honoring her ancestors, Haydar released her latest EP, ‘Barbarican.’ The 5-track hip-hop shuffle inspires and exposes topics of feminism, white supremacy, and oppression. We sat down with the multi-faceted humanitarian to keep up with her evolved enlightenment:
Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Flint, Michigan and my parents are immigrants from Damascus, Syria. I had a good childhood in Flint; it was fun. I just enjoyed life: biking around, climbing trees, falling out of trees, skateboarding, rollerblading, the whole thing. I was about 14 years old when I got into spoken word poetry, and it quickly went from spoken word poetry to exploring all the ways that I am an artist. From a young age, I always knew I was an artist, and it was just a matter of finding that. At 14, it looked like slam poetry, and spoken word. I tried to learn as much as I could and work with really amazing mentors and artists and flex those muscles. And now it’s been 15 years since I've been writing and performing.
As a mom, activist, and artist, how do you balance these identities?
I’m just a person and I feel like there's space for all of us. I’m a mom, I’m an academic, I recently received my mater’s degree, and you could say I'm an activist because I care about the world, but I don't think I do enough to be an activist. I feel like you have to do a lot to have that title. That's a big title. I'm definitely trying to say something in my music, and I know a lot of people don't care to say anything. My whole thing is that I care about the world that my children are growing up in and I care that they grow up in a better world than what exists right now. I hope to be doing the work that enables that to be a reality.
How has music best served your work as a multi-faceted artist?
It was a transition when I went from doing poetry to music, it was a big jump. People were like a yellow light, thinking I shouldn't do it. But if you can reach more people, you have to do so as an artist. I felt like I had to challenge myself to go above and beyond what I was comfortable with, which was poetry. The current administration is putting out so much hatred and bigotry and division. They're trying to divide people, you know, and I feel that we have to try to put out as much love as they're putting out hate. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish as an artist.
As a Syrian-American, what’s your standpoint on our current political climate?
I don't believe in dividing people, and whether he [President Trump] is talking about international politics, or trans people, or Mexicans, or anything hateful, it's all the same garbage. It's all about division and hatred and bigotry, and I'm not here for that. I'm here for love and if you're not then get out of my way because that's the only real work in the world; everything else is just noise. I hope that we can learn from our mistakes as a society and grow into a more beautiful place.
How do you hope to inspire your listeners?
Inspiration is something I talk and think a lot about. I feel like inspiration is in the micro-moments of your life, and we can all inch closer and more towards enlightenment at every moment. I think enlightenment is the greatest inspiration. If you have this great idea and you know it's a great idea, that comes from a place of enlightenment. It’s like something hits you, and you light up. In my element, inspiration happens a lot of ways. For example, when I'm at the grocery store and the cashier is scanning all my items, I make a concerted effort to connect with that person because that's a human being in front of me; doing their work, living their life. I try to look people square in the eye and connect with them because that is an opportunity to be alive and to be really alive. If there's one thing that I hope to pass along to people is: “this is your life, live it and live it well.” We get one shot at this; maybe we get more, who knows? I don't know, and you don't know, nobody knows. Given that this is all we're conscious of the present moment, you have to take advantage of it. You have to connect, and you have to get enlightened, you gotta get lifted, you need to be alive with people and with the Earth and with all that is.
Tell us about your most recent EP release.
It's called ‘Barbarican.’ There are two songs on the EP, one is called Barbarian, and one is called American and so putting the two together, we’re Barbarican's. It's this hybrid identity owning who we are in the world. As a young girl, I would go to Syria, and I'd be labeled the ‘American,’ and here, as a Syrian American, I’m always the ‘Arab girl.’ I’m at a point in my life where I don't have time for that. I’m unconditionally myself without borders, labels, or ticked boxes; I'm just me all the time.
What was it like to reconnect with your roots in Syria?
It was such a great time. I chose to go and live in Syria after I graduated college to experience where my ancestors lived and loved. I felt that it was vital for me to connect with my roots and to be in the culture and learn where I came from because you can’t do anything in the world unless you know who you are. Especially if you want to help people and be a healing force in the world, which is what I'm trying to do. Going to Syria as a young kid deeply affected me. To meet my grandparents, and cousins and to be able to spend time with them, was and still is a big part of my life.
What project has been the most rewarding to you?
The last track on the EP called Miss Me. I had a really good time writing it and enjoyed working on it. It features another Syrian-American rapper, Omar Offendum, and the song is about white supremacy and how they can ‘miss me with it.’ I loved taking things that seem vague and boiling them down to reduce them to something that you can make fun of so that you can enjoy your life while still resisting oppression. We live in an intense time, and there's a lot of pain and suffering in the world. Music can be an escape from that, but while we're escaping, we may as well be healing at the same time. We’re not going to escape and come back to the world just as fucked up as it was. We must heal in the process of escaping.
What can we expect from you in 2019?
I hope I'm on tour, I hope I'm partying and having a good time, and healing division and wounds, and making our ancestors proud. I hope we're doing a lot of good work. I’m in the process of founding a nonprofit and an NGO working with refugees. I'm also working on a clothing line with a focus on sustainability. It will be a lot of basics with the advantage of knowing who made the clothes, where it came from, and the good karma that surrounds it, so that we don’t walk around obliviously supporting oppression.