The first guest artist of Al-Bustan’s 2014 spring series was an Iraqi-Canadian hip-hop performer. The Narcicyst, a multimedia artist with a background as unique as his resume, spent four days in Philadelphia, meeting with local school and university students before capping off his visit in a performance with Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble at the Trinity Center for Urban Life.
The concert presented an especially interesting pairing of his hip-hop songs with the music of the four talented members of Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble: Hanna Khoury on violin, Kinan Idnawi on oud, Kinan Abou-afach on cello, and Hafez Kotain on percussion. Artwork by students from Moffet Elementary School adorned the walls of the hall’s lobby, and many of the students and their parents were in attendance.
Four spoken-word UPenn students opened the show with their compelling words and delivery set to the rhythms of Arab drums. They expressed their struggles with identity, similar themes that Narcy delves into. One student described himself as “a modern nomad / relating to yet never belonging / concrete on one foot and the other is in tall weeds / those feet are mine.” Another described his “ambitions of an abolitionist…to this day I’m still trying to understand / but on the other hand, I’m trying to devise a plan…why try to be what society wants to see? / a minority with a majority in prison and poverty / I don’t know about you but that stuff bothers me.” These student poets set the tone for the afternoon.
Photos by Dana Scherer:
The Narcicyst came on stage and the music of the Takht Ensemble and the melodic tracks from his songs filled the hall as he rapped his powerful rhythmic lyrics. He introduced himself as “Yassin Alsalman,” also known as “Narcy”, telling the audience, “Feel free to call me whatever you like, just not anything negative.” His set included such hits as P.H.A.T.W.A. about his experience crossing the US border as an Arab rapper, and Fly Over Egypt, which he sang as images of the beauty of Egypt flashed on the screen behind him. His song Sumeria, an ode to his motherland, Iraq, featured a reprise by the Takht Ensemble, during which Narcy spoke out about the lingering health effects of the war in Iraq and how they personally affected him. Two of the songs he performed, Haraga and Ghaba are from his forthcoming Arabic-language album and featured individual solos by each of the Takht Ensemble members. He ended the show with a sweet rendition of Hamdulillah, a reminder to give thanks for the many things in our lives, coupled with a slide show of Moffet students proudly displaying their artwork. After the audience gave Narcy and the Takht Ensemble a raving applause, they stayed on to play an encore “Fear,” a song not yet released.
Photo opportunities and conversation continued well after the concert, where attendees shared their comments:
– Eclectic, entertaining, and uplifting!
– The concert was a marriage of culture, politics, and advocacy—a hyperaware statement.
– The concert was something that can’t be missed!
– I most enjoyed the Takht Ensemble, as always. But I also enjoyed the fusion of visuals and rap, everything!
The Narcicyst’s concert and residency was made possible through generous support of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Arts’ Building Bridges Program, William Penn Foundation, Philadelphia Cultural Fund, and University of Pennsylvania.