Yassin Alsalman: Identity through music

Yassin Alsalman: Identity through music

Culture: Born in Dubai, raised in Montreal, The Narcicyst tries to connect minority experiences with those of a wider audience.
3 min read
20 July, 2015
The Narcicyst, hip-hop MC extraordinaire, has a reputation for socially conscious lyricism [Facebook]
Known by his fans as The Narcicyst or Narcy, Yassin Alsalman is an Iraqi-Canadian hip-hop artist who was born in Dubai in 1982, after his parents left Basra in southern Iraq. His family later moved to Montreal, where Alsalman grew up and was introduced to hip-hop.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed met the man in New York, where he was preforming at the launch party for Ali Issa's new book Against All Odds: Voices of Popular Struggle in Iraq.

"Hip-hop music was really important for me, personally, in my attempt to share our experiences as Arabs or Muslims who were born outside the countries of our parents," said Alsalman.

"I started finding my own way that I chose and not the way chosen for me by others."
Watch #Jan25 here [YouTube]

Hip-hop is especially important for second-generation Arab and Muslim immigrants as a way to express their issues and experiences, he said.

Having first appeared on the hip-hop scene as part of an Iraqi-Canadian group, Euphrates, on their 2003 debut album, A Bend in the River, Alsalman released three albums and a number of singles and EPs.

Since going solo, he has also worked in collaboration with a number of Arab and Muslim American artists. These collaborations included #Jan25, which featured Omar Offendum, Freeway, Ayah and Amir Sulaiman - and was released in support of the revolution in Egypt.

Hamdulillah, meanwhile, was recorded with Palestinian singer Shadia Mansour, and was featured in the hit Fast and Furious 7 movie.

Finding his own way

When Alsalman talks about finding his "own way", part of what he means is his cultural identity.

He believes that people try to dictate to the children of immigrants what their identity should be, that they are made to choose between an Arab and a Western identity.

He rejects this notion, seeing identity as a complex dynamic to be dealt with in a way that encompasses such complexity.

"My identity and experience has its Canadian part, but it's different to other Canadians because it was formed during wars," said the vocalist.
Check out The Narcicyst's Hamdulilah here [YouTube]

"I did not experience those wars first-hand but I lived their results. This also applies to Syrians and Palestinians whose parents emigrated to the West."

The Narcicyst believes that music - and art more generally - can really help second-generation immigrants express their compound identities and deal with the social and political issues they face.

His music deals with the pain of war and displacement, as well as with political events such as the Iraq war and the Arab revolutions more directly.

However, he attempts to find the things that bring minorities and other groups together, in order to reach a wider audience and make the experience of Arabs in the Middle East resonate with those of New Yorkers and vice versa - even though the details might be different.

"At the end of the day, it's the same battle regardless of the details," he said.

"We're fighting for social justice and against corrupt political and economic systems that crush the majority of people in various places."