One of the artists at the forefront of the Arab hip-hop scene is without a doubt Yassin Alsalman, better known as The Narcicyst.
The multi-talented Iraqi-Canadian has made a name for himself in the region and worldwide since launching onto the scene back in 2000. He’s released music, performed at some of the most established international music festivals, teaches at university and even had time to make his acting debut in Ali Mostafa’s first feature film, 2009’s City of Life (remember Khalfan? He was played by Yassin).
The Narcicyst returns to Dubai this evening to appear at Tiger Translate 2013 at the Media One hotel. He’ll be appearing alongside LCD Soundsystem’s Pat Mahoney, Zahed Sultan and Hamdan Al Abri, amongst others.
Here, he talks to tabloid! about turning 30, upcoming projects, as well as paving the way for future artists.
-You have close ties to Dubai – do you try and make time to visit regularly?
-I come every six months to visit as my parents live here. And I try and do as many shows when I come back. I moved out here for eight months to start a media company in Abu Dhabi before, but then decided against it, so I reside in Montreal, where I teach a hip-hop course at Concordia University.
-So what have you been up to in terms of your music?
-I have been refocusing the angle of my music. I turned 30 in 2012, therefore a lot of milestones happened in my career and life that made me re-focus my energy on a different perspective musically. That’s what I have been doing in the past 12 months. In terms of performing, I have become more selective with the shows that I am doing. I did the jazz festival in Montreal and a show with Mos Def, for instance.
Also, I have been really focusing on campaigns – releasing a project or a song and really pushing it to its full capacity – before moving on to the next thing. Before, we were used to just releasing, releasing, and releasing constantly, without any sort of strategy with how to present our stuff.
-The older you get, the more structured you become…
-Yes, you slow down in the sense of output, because you are more selective in what you want to say.
-Media focus in the Middle East has obviously shifted from Iraq. Do you go there to stay in touch with your roots, for instance?
-Has it ever really been on it? (laughs) Being from Iraq, you have a perspective. I’ve been there but when I was very young. And the way I stayed in touch with Iraq was through my family. However, in the last 5-6 years, we moved everyone out, so everyone moved to different countries. But the Iraqi community is very fractured – outside of Iraq and inside. As much as we’d like to look at ourselves as a cohesive body, there’s a divide and conquer model that worked on us, and that’s what you hope doesn’t happen in places, such as Syria.
-What is your new music going to focus on?
-Instead of being Iraq-focused, it has recently been more focused on being a young Arab in North America or being the son of an immigrant who’s finding his own path and identity, and perhaps accepting the fact that perhaps we don’t have an identity. Whether we live here or there, it really doesn’t matter anymore. War is always a dark cloud that’s always above you.
-Have ever had problems finding your identity as such?
-I’ve kinda given up on fitting in. Even amongst our friends, I am the loud one, and with the fashion or whatever, I became the one that stood out. It’s a reflection of my personality. I like that I can roam the streets, I can play in places as far as Melbourne and it still feels like home. I grew up with a father that was really anti belonging to one place, whereas my mother was all about Iraq, so I had that mix. But I have accepted we don’t have a home. Floating is our home. It’s where your heart is. Sometimes it’s Canada or Dubai or somewhere in Europe, for example.
-I’m working on a short film project based on my next album. I have been working on it for a year in my head, and finally got around to writing it. A good friend of ours Nissar turned it into script form, so hopefully that will get off the ground. I am hopefully going to be teaching another course at Concordia, but a more general, multimedia course.
-The new album will be out in the third quarter of 2013, but I’ll be releasing projects throughout the year. We also want to look at building the scene more intelligently and thoughtfully.
The Narcycist performs tonight at Tiger Translate, at Media One Hotel, Dubai. Visit facebook.com/tigertranslate