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Omar Offendum performing at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History Feb. 24, 2018. Photo by Shai Tamari, associate director of CCSMEMC.

The Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations hosted Syrian-American hip-hop artist, Omar Offendum, for a concert in the auditorium of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History as final event of Global Spotlight Week on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. The concert tied together themes presented throughout the week-long exploration of crises of citizenship and belonging across world regions.

The concert was preceded by a workshop for K-12 teachers from across North Carolina to explore poetry, hip-hop and peacebuilding in the Middle East. Speaking to the group of educators, Offendum told them that he is “like the palm trees back in his home state of California.” Palm trees are not native to California. They were brought over when the region was under Spanish rule. Even then, palm trees are not native to Spain; they originate in Syria. Islamic leaders brought palm trees to Spain after they conquered the nation to remind them of home. Offendum says he is “like the palm trees because no matter how far removed he is from Syria, that is still where his roots are.”

Offendum uses rap as an expressive art form to explore themes of intersectional culture and identity in his own life and conveys these messages through his music. During the workshop, Offendum highlighted the ongoing civil war in Syria and discussed how educators can use music in their classrooms to connect their students with other cultures.

In addition to Offendum’s performance, attended by the K-12 teachers, the event featured oud player Naji Hilal and tabla player Mahmoud Alqhumri; Durham-based professor, musician and social entrepreneur Pierce Freelon; spoken-word artist Techa Beaumont; and Joshua Rowsey of UNC Cypher, a student group interested in cultivating hip-hop culture and promoting free expression across Carolina’s campus.

The evening began with remarks by Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, senior associate dean for social sciences and global programs in the College of Arts and Sciences. He reflected that the event was a wonderful representation of the area studies centers at Carolina, engaging students, staff, faculty and community members in an important dialogue about pressing global issues through a unique medium.

UNC Cypher opened the concert with freestyle raps that encouraged the audience to get out of their seats. Cypher was followed by Techa Beaumont, a Duke-UNC Rotary Peace fellow born in Australia of Persian, Jewish, Indian and European descent. Her spoken word on the intersectionality of identity continued to address the issues presented throughout the Spotlight week.

Pierce Freelon followed, putting together songs live in front of the audience using a beat making machine. His songs spoke to the lack of black representation in media and the everyday struggles the black community faces. Offendum performed next with raps accompanied by a traditional tabla and oud. His music and poetry, which he performed in both Arabic and English, builds on American hip-hop and compelled the audience to consider issues of identity, belonging and diaspora.

Offendum ended the night by taking a selfie video with the audience and proclaiming his love for “North Cackalacky.”

This event was sponsored by the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations with additional support by Arts Everywhere; Carolina Summer Reading Program; College of Arts and Sciences; Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense; Department of History; Department of Music; Department of Religious Studies; Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies; First Year Seminars Program; UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities; Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History; and UNC Center for Global Initiatives; with support from the Chancellor’s Global Education Fund.

By Rashaan Ayesh ‘18


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