Mona Haydar ‘My music is a reflection of my heart and mind’

Tuesday 04 September 2018
Photography Ryan Saradjola

Originally known for her ‘Ask A Muslim’ booth in Cambridge,where she offered people an opportunity for conversation. Syrian-American Mona Haydar has always aimed to lead discussion, she is a female figure who’s vision is so aligned with her beliefs that she won’t be stopping anytime soon (and we don’t want her too). In March 2017, she initiated an important one upon the release of her first rap single, ‘Hijabi’ a song which called out racism and colourism while commemorating female diversity. Ahead of her first EP, we had a chat with this with Haydar about her transition to music and what it means to be “for Love.”

Why did you transition from poetry into rap?

Being an artist means that I’m super sensitive to the world around me. I always saw art as a means of healing and as having the power to transform. You string some words together and suddenly it’s more than just disjointed words– it’s a poem– it’s a song. I was at a point in my trajectory as an artist that I felt compelled to really break free from the self imposed restrictions I’d set up for myself. I felt compelled to speak what was on my heart in a bigger way– even if it was going to be harder for me, even if it was going to take some work and adjustment on my end. I felt compelled to take on that instruction from my heart and see if I could work my art into a form that more people might be able to reach more people. My message is basically Love. capital L, and I’m going to make sure to send that out as far and wide as I can because there are too many others sending around division, hatred and bigotry. I felt compelled to counter that in some ways, especially growing up other, non-white, not fully human to some, not fully American to some, not fully Arab to some, not fully Syrian to some. We need more love and I’m trying to be somebody who brings it.

Who are your biggest influences?

I’m so inspired by people like my mother – people who live their lives with integrity and love no matter who says what about it. I really love the world of Charles Eisenstein and his writing about the budding “more beautiful world we all know is possible.” Musically I’m really influenced by classics like Umm Kulthoum. I love Janet Jackson, Prince, Mashrou Leila, Yasiin Bey, Jill Scott, Amir Sulaiman, Erykah Badu. I love the lyricism of J Cole and Chance the Rapper. I love the way artists like Frank Ocean and Sia just lay it all out in their music. I love vulnerability.

How do you balance studying and making music?

My whole life is studying. I go down these research rabbit holes every few days and it’s one of the things I really love to do. Having just finished my Masters in Christian Ethics and Theology, it wasn’t easy to balance studying, having a family–two kids who need me and my work as a Chaplain as well as my dream of making more music. It was definitely a lot to juggle but I feel like I’m learning to live in greater harmony and balance everyday. I feel like things like my spiritual life and practices keep me more grounded and focused on the important things in my life.

Your songs feature aspects of power, race and gender, do you see your music as a platform for activism?

It’s not so much about my music being a platform for activism. My music is a reflection of my heart and mind and really you’re just getting what I experience, think about and feel. I talk about problematic power structures and systems of oppression because I believe in speaking truth to domination– that’s part of what it is to be for love– standing up for Love is standing up for justice.

What can we expect from your forthcoming EP Barbarican?

The EP will hopefully be a really good time– I really want people to enjoy it, laugh a little. cry a little, feel seen, feel heard. feel understood, feel outraged, feel healed. The title refers to always being other– always barbarian no matter how much we try– it’s about stopping, recognizing that we are enough- owning our non-western ways as valuable and beautiful. Owning our hybridity as lovely- as whole and not fragmented and compartmentalized. We are whole in the midst of all our seeming contradictions and intersectional identities. We are whole We are love. We are Barbarican.

Who would you love to collab with? 

I love and respect so many artists right now. I think my top dream collabs would have to be Kehlani,  J Cole, Sia, Chance, James Blake, Princess Nokia. Childish Gambino, Andre 300, Yasiin Bey —– I could go on and on!!!

What would you like people to take from your music?

I hope people walk away feeling loved, seen, heard and valued. I hope they walk away feeling affirmed in their identity, no matter what it is and what the world has to say about it.

Listen to Mona’s track ‘Hijabi’ here: