An established German writer of Turkish decent, a veiled Palestinian rapper based in Berlin, an Iranian lawyer with a popular poetry slam show in Hamburg and an Afghani literature student also in love with one of the most anti-authoritarian poetry formats.
All four were either born or raised in Germany and their different backgrounds are clearly mirrored in their works. As much as they may seem similar at first glance, their self-perceived identities are actually quite different.
The artists’ experiences, craft and body of work has been merged into a mosaic, embodying the various shades of the expatriate experience in Germany.
Their vivid music will echo at the Sawy Culture Center and the German Culture Institute in Egypt (Goethe), who brought the four together for an unprecedented event entitled “Slam, Rap and Stories.
Poetry Slam was conceived in Chicago in the mid-80s and spread worldwide by the late 1990s. The art form contains little boundaries or rules in terms of its poetics. It usually highlights a throng of dissimilar topics, voices, cultures, politics and artistic influences.
Poetry slam is presented in the form of a competition where a jury is selected from the audience members. The members give every recital a score and the performance with the highest points is the winner.
The main objective of poetry slam is to make art accessible to the public and defy the authority of intellectuals on refined arts like poetry and story-writing.
Sulaiman Masomi is one of the two slam poets participating in the event. He was born in Afghanistan and moved to Germany around 1980 at the age of one.
He started writing poetry and short stories at the age of 12. He found in poetry and rap a perfect vehicle to express himself and his culture. “I write about so many different things, he said. “I do write about my Afghani identity and religion but not as frequently as people might suggest.
Sahira Awad is a 28-year-old Palestinian and a professional rapper who was born in Berlin. She earned a degree in economics but preferred to take the path of music and arts instead. “Music and rap is the one thing I’m able to accomplish without any flaws, she smiled.
She shares her passion for rap with her older brother, who used to listen to the music of Public Enemy and Mop Deep. “These artists spoke strongly to my generation, she said, “their anti-establishment and anti-war lyrics shaped our lives.
Hatice Akyün is a 38-year-old journalist who moved from Turkey to Berlin at the age of one. Akyün primarily writes about the Turkish community in Germany and Islam for the weekly publication Tagesspiegel among others.
“I write a lot about problem-based subjects such as the difficulty some Turks have in adapting with the German society, she said. “But I also try to write about Turkish success stories that aren’t very popular in there.
Akyün recorded her experience as an average German/Turkish woman living in the German society from a positive, warm and witty viewpoint in her bestselling book “One Hans with Hot Sauce.
“The subtitle of my book is ‘my heart is German and my soul is Turkish’ and that’s basically how I live, she said. “I don’t wake up every day and question my identity. That doesn’t work for me. I just live my life. I consider having two cultures as a gift.
Michel Abdollahi, a 26-year-old Iranian-born lawyer who moved to Germany at the age of five, also cherishes his dual identity. “When I first moved to Germany, it was a totally different country. Different looking people, different religion. It even smelled different, he ruminated. “But now I don’t find any problems with that. I love both Germany and my home country.
In fact, Abdollahi finds a great advantage to having two nationalities, allowing him to discuss topics the average German might not be capable of tackling. “It’s just lovely. I have the freedom to criticize the Iranian government and talk about Islam while also discussing German-related topics.
Awad, on the other hand, said she has never been capable of fully integrating with the German society.
“I’ve never felt German and I don’t believe that Germans accept foreigners, she said. “I know that living in Germany has given me the luxury of leading a comfortable life, which also allowed me to recognize the suffering of my people and eventually write about them. But I don’t think that Germans are acceptant of girls who wear the hijab, kids who fast Ramadan and everyone who prays five times a day.
Masomi states that it’s difficult to make any generalizations regarding this point. “There are Germans who are really nice and hospitable and others who are prejudiced, just like Turks or Palestinians or Afghans, he said. “Maybe Zahira came with her own prejudices with the people she met. Maybe she sees what she wants to see.
Akyün believes there’s a rhetoric difference between concepts of integration and assimilation. “I believe that I’m integrated because I embrace both cultures and speak both languages, she said. “The problem is most of the foreign parents aren’t integrated, they don’t speak the language and their kids feel lost. They don’t know which world they should be living in.
Akyün adds that some of these expatriates who constantly call for tolerance and respect “aren’t themselves tolerant or respectful enough of others.
Abdollahi and Masomi hope that poetry slam will create an arena for young artists, writers and poets to display their work and encourage more to follow suite.
After holding the very first poetry slam contestant in Egypt at the Ain Shams University and the German School, Abdollahi and Masomi were thrilled with the outcome.
“It was exciting, Masomi said, “people were laughing, cheering and being emotional as well.
While Awad preferred the university students to those of the German School, referring to them as “more friendly and unpretentious, Akyün wasn’t as elated.
“The reaction at the university was a bit strange. It was mainly positive and many girls asked me some questions about how I was able to deal with my conservative dad and everything, which I thought was very sweet, she said. “But others told me that the way I live is inappropriate for a Muslim woman. I was surprised because I expected students to be more open-minded and tolerant.
Akyün faced more inquiries about how she regards herself as a Muslim woman after a reading from her book in last Sunday’s event at the Goethe Institute. She responded by stating that religion is a personal relationship with God that should always be kept private.
“I hate it when people judge me by the way I dress or behave, she said. “No one has the right to call me a good or bad Muslim. There are personal boundaries that people should respect and learn not to cross.
Catch”Slam, Rap and Stories today at the Goethe Institute in Alexandria; Wednesday the Culture Palace of Ismailia and on Friday at the Sawy Culture Center. All dates will be held at 7 pm. For more information, please call the Goethe Institute at (02) 2374 84501 or (02) 3748 4576.