Meet Omar Offendum, the rapper who blends hip-hop with Arabic poetry

Born in Saudi Arabia, Omar Offendum is known for his unique blend of hip-hop and Arabic poetry. (Photo courtesy: Ridwan Adhami)
Updated 17 October 2017
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Meet Omar Offendum, the rapper who blends hip-hop with Arabic poetry

JEDDAH: Meet Omar Offendum, the rapper, poet and modern-day activist using his voice as his shield and armor. The Syrian-American father, husband and hip-hop enthusiast was born in Saudi Arabia, but raised in Washington, DC. Offendum uses his talent to bridge the gap between his Syrian roots and his Western upbringing. He uses music to shine a spotlight on political issues stemming from the Arab Spring and even deals with current-day political matters of concern.
Known for his unique blend of hip-hop and Arabic poetry, hearing Offendum’s music makes for a nostalgic listening experience. He has powerful words of love for a country going through a struggle that will go down in history as a period of tragedy.

Speaking to Arab News, Offendum shed light on his music.
“Politics is always a topic of discussion, for better or worse. From that perspective, it’s something quite Arab. To discuss it in a public forum though, that’s relatively new. With the boom of the Internet, it became relevant. As someone who grew up in the US, (I am) used to the ‘freedom of speech’ expression — it’s very common… Talking about issues that matter to the community is very prevalent in the hip-hop artists I grew up listening to,” he said.
His lyrics tell of a rich culture that is often misunderstood by many. Some of his songs are a blend of translated Arabic poetry by Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, mixed with Offendum’s original lyrics. This blend is a good example of how he uses his platform to build links between two cultures and to bring forth a generation that is well-educated in matters of their community.
In addition to hip-hop, Omar grew up appreciating Arab poets and writers, such as Qabbani and Edward Said. He found a parallel between Arabic poetry and hip-hop music and saw an opportunity to create something fresh, different and in-demand.
Despite not growing up in Syria, Offendum was able to gain insight into the country from his parents. His father, an engineer from Hama, and his mother, a lover of the arts from Damascus, imbued him with a deep sense of understanding of the history and current political climate of his homeland.
Relaying that deep sense of pride in where his people come from and the history and traditions they carry with them, his latest EP, “Eye Know Faces,” empowers listeners and spreads a positive perception of Middle Eastern language and cultures. His music comments on current issues, including social media, the Syrian war, love, unity, US politics and more.
There was a noticeable shift in his latest EP — he sought a subtler tone from his previous album “SyrianamaricanA,” which was released in 2011. The lyrics were fiercer, louder and resonated with the anger many felt at the beginning of the Arab Spring.
He has come to be known as a politically-conscious artist due, in part, to haunting lyrics such as: “Can I get a piece of my motherland? Or just peace in my motherland?”
His work has since evolved and his next chapter is more about preserving stories and traditions for his son, Jibran, aptly named after the late Lebanese writer and poet Khalil Gibran.

“This chapter of my life is more personal to me than ever before because, quite literally, our history is being erased and bombed away. There’s an extra sense of responsibility now and the passion stems from the sense of loss of such beauty that is the Syrian culture,” he said.
“I’m a product of this generation that is able to use the Internet and develop our own subcultures easily. I’ve never sent a demo to a record label and I don’t consider myself in the industry. What I am is an artist who is very keen on developing a community of like-minded people who appreciate my perspectives, using social media and the Internet. I don’t necessarily have millions of fans in LA, but I do have thousands of them around the world that I can reach online.”
There is more to the artist than just hip-hop, however. He hosts humanitarian relief events, helps to curate museum exhibitions and has participated in artist residencies in various cultural spaces around the world, including Doris Duke’s Shangri La Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures in Hawaii.
Last month, he worked with Sofar Sounds, in collaboration with Amnesty International on a worldwide concert series. A staggering 300 gigs in more than 60 countries were held on one day to show solidarity with refugees and highlight the importance of providing homes to all.
Offendum’s poetry can also be heard at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran, where it is played on a loop in an exhibition of the “Damascus room,” a never-before shown 18th century room from a home in Damascus on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
An architect by degree, an educator by experience and a singer by passion, Offendum’s music is definitely worth a listen.


Art Dubai, where anything goes, gets off to a colorful start

The fair’s 13th edition runs from March 20-23 and features 92 Contemporary and Modern galleries from 42 countries. (Arab News)
Updated 20 March 2019
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Art Dubai, where anything goes, gets off to a colorful start

DUBAI: Art Dubai, the largest art fair in the Middle East, got off to a colorful start on Wednesday and more than 92 galleries showcased their chosen artists in the city’s Madinat Jumeriah.

The fair’s 13th edition runs from March 20-23 and features 92 Contemporary and Modern galleries from 42 countries, as well as a bevy of galleries from the UAE.  There are also a number of events going on around the city, as part of Art Week, including Art Nights at the Dubai International Financial Center, which took place on Tuesday. 

You can read more about Art Nights, and see the wild and wonderful art on show, here

Highlights include new gallery section Bawwaba, showcasing art from the Global South; UAE NOW - the first section of its kind - spotlighting local independent artist-run platforms and subcultures, their place in the UAE’s evolving landscape and contribution to creating new ways of thinking, theory and artistic movements and the Contemporary section — two gallery halls presenting work from 59 galleries from 34 countries by some of the most notable contemporary artists working today. It will make you smile, smirk and everything  in-between.

Art Dubai 2019 welcomes more than 500 artists representing 80 nationalities across its four gallery sections: Art Dubai Contemporary, Art Dubai Modern, Bawwaba and Residents.

We take a look at six of our favorite artists and pieces here.

The diversity on show is notable, with galleries from Latin America placed next to booths from Beirut, Saudi Arabia and London.

Pablo del Val, Artistic Director of Art Dubai, said: “Art Dubai continues to develop original content to redefine what an art fair can be and contribute to the UAE and wider region’s cultural landscape. We represent an art world that is truly global and inclusive, rooted in artistic discovery and the promotion of new and alternative perspectives, community building, idea generation and cultural exchange. Geographies, galleries and artists, art typologies and thematics that are not often seen side-by-side, or even as part of the same conversation, will converge at the fair. We hope that new discoveries will be made and new synergies formed.”

It’s a melting pot of artistic expression and media, with sculptures, canvases and the odd video installation vying for space in the crowded halls.

There is a distinct focus on contemporary art, so if you’re into museum-worthy paintings, this may not be your cup of tea, but if you are willing to experiment, it’s the perfect spot to question the boundaries of art.

Battery-operated imaginary animals careened across the floor in one booth, while a fine spider’s web of black string formed an origami-like sculpture in another — anything goes at Art Dubai, as long as it’s not too risqué.

But, why tell you when we can show you? Scroll through the photo gallery to find out more about the art on show here.