1one4 Magazines in-depth Interview with The Nasheed Trio Native Deen: Muslim, Black and American

M-U-S-L-I-M is the track names for one of the popular NATIVE DEEN songs, with 3 Albums , over 60 songs including remixes and cameos, these brothers have come a long way since they first formed the group in 2000. They have taken their message far into the homes and hearts of fans across the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Even though their music and audience has evolved the message in their lyrics continues to be inspired by the Quran and Sunnah. Meet NATIVE DEEN’s Naeem Muhammed, Joshua Salaam, and AbdulMalik Ahmad, they are here as part of the Peace Train Concert. The interview takes place at the lounge in Planet 1, the brothers are dressed relaxed in jeans and shirts only Joshua is wearing a danskiki style top and a cap. We had to wait for the concert host representative to arrive before the interview could start. The brothers generously allowed us to chit chat while we are waiting, Naeem even jokingly tells us to ask any illegit questions before the team arrives to sensor the interview. We did not have any because of course these brothers keep it clean and halal. Joshua asks to know about Muslim communities in Nigeria giving away one of his other passions, working as a Youth Director is Muslim community back home in Washington DC, when he is not on stage performing with the group. They had a lot to say. Enjoy the interview: Bismillai As Salaam Alaikum Wa Alaikum Salam Welcome to Lagos Thank you Is this is your first time in Nigeria Naeem: second time in Nigeria first time in Lagos, we came like 10 years ago, it was a whole nother situation we had only been a band for 3 years, we did not have our first album out just yet, we were still kind of feeling out the band and growing. Hopefully if anyone that saw us in Abuja back then, comes out now to see us now it would be like night and day, the band is a lot bigger now and Insha Allahu hopefully our voices have grown, we have matured and gotten better over the years. Tell us what we should expect Naeem: When we take the stage we bring a lot of energy and excitement, that speaks for our background as African American. We bring a lot of passion into what we would be doing, and we try to do in it a way that there is a lot of excitement so that you are looking to see what would happen next, it would have high tempos and low tempos, some fast songs some slow songs. highly entertaining but more so highly inspirational to people. How would you describe your genre of music Joshua: That is the question of the decade; because we have been boxed in by a lot of reporters and media as a Muslim hip-hop group, Muslim nasheed group, and a lot of our listeners think when they listen to the album that it much more than that, of course we have some songs that are hip hop and there are songs that are of a variety, slow songs, fast songs. world songs, songs that have African, Pakistani base, different parts of the world that we have put together, kind of hip but not hip-hop Naeem:I just like to term it good music you can call it whatever you want and we try to keep it current as much as possible that it speaks to that and we try to keep it beneficial that people can be inspired. Joshua: but what genre of music, people want to know Naeem: I used to describe it as hip-hop fusion So you guys are Black, American and Muslim, how are you holding it down Joshua: It is Awesome, really good. it is definitely a cultural experience being African American Muslim in America. In America there are so many different ethnic groups, you have people from Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, China all in America in the masjib practicing Islam. For the typical Nigerian we don't think American and see Muslim, maybe as a result of media stereotype, how do you address this Joshua: I think that is one of the reasons why we are doing what we are doing, and traveling because we are almost like cultural ambassadors we come and we get to show a window into American life for other countries, and actually we are also able to go home and tell people what these other place are like. People have a limited view of other countries if they only have the information that is on television. We think is very important for these type of exchange to happen for people to travel and meet each other and showcase the other pearls and jewels of their society. So we hope that while we are here we can breakdown some of the stereotypes of American life. Let talk about your music, since forming the group has your music changed has your inspiration changed Abdul Malik: The direction of our music has stayed the same, we have always been trying to put moral lyric into our songs and also address the Muslim crowd especially the younger crowd. What has grown in our band is our performance. Naeem: When we first started out in the youth organization, everything was targeted as young Muslims growing up in America, a lot of the songs where  pretty simple, addressing every day issues like; where are you going to pray, peer pressure with friends, almost every thing was introspective we have now broaden it. Political things have happen in the world, we might not have strong political views but we know what is going on in the world and we are going to speak about it, and when we first started we where only thinking of mostly speaking to Muslim communities then as time when on we wanted to broaden it that anyone can take the music and benefit from it whatever religion you are from, definitely our target core audience is the Muslim community but it should not be so esoteric that only Muslims can pick it up and say this is good, if a Christian picks it up they say what was that, it has to be open for anyone to benefit from it. Take us through a typical creative process Joshua: I like to start with a melody and sometimes I may have a melody in my head or I will hear a melody from a different culture may be Pakistan or African, then I tweak it a bit, once I like it I start to put lyrics that I think fit that melody if it is a sad or happy ears or I will call Abdul Malik to say “hey I have this melody” can you put it on the computer , he does a lot of the beats on the computer and a lot of things starts with him. Naeem: Lately I work by putting different musical cords together and then start writing depending on what that core progression makes me feel, but at least with subject matter it is normally some kind of experience. I was just watching TV and every night I kept seeing that 150 people dies in this country, 200 hundred dies here, 500 died there and the newscaster was just saying it, it was like just telling you how many cars someone bought, it was like it meant nothing, and I that got me thinking so how much is a life’s worth if you can just write off these numbers like that you know. so I start writing. For me it comes from some kind of moving situation that make me think a certain phrase. Abdul Malik: Most of the time I have a concept of what I want to write and work a melody that fits the concept. Do you put yourselves under a sort if time pressure to release albums or singles Joshua: {points to Abdul Malik} Puts us on a time pressure we fight back Abdul Malik: In the past, I have been the guy to push, the only reason is that in my house I have all the studio equipment. But for our next album we are trying to do it a little different, we want more people involved who are experienced, so that we have other people taking care of the different aspects. We try to have deadlines but in the end having something of great quality trumps quantity. Naeem: I feel like Abdul Malik is more of a technician he has an idea in concept and gets it done. Joshua is more of inspiration. I need a muse that is the way I work and something has to happen and then I feel it. Joshua: I need a good beat, if I have a good beat at the beginning then the lyric would come How do you keep a good work/life balance Abdul Malik: Well, it is difficult we all have kids, families, jobs. it is a struggle some of the stuff we are doing is all toward the overall mission. It is hard, and we don't go doing performances every day and every week, we get a lot of request and we try to prioritize. It is a lot of decision making. Naeem: It is not just a thing of we want to be famous and sign lots of autographs, our work is meant to be heard and affecting people's lives in a positive way and it can’t do that if it is just sat in  our houses. so we are working hard to crack that puzzle of how do we make sure that when we produce something a kid all the way in New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Azerbaijan, has access to it and can benefit from it. What would you say to a youth that wants a career in music Joshua: Education is the base, it is key. Get your education but it does not mean that your passion or your dream has to stop you can do at the same time or once you finish you can find a way to join them. Naeem: {I hear that} Joshua: {that is a rare situation} Any projects you want to bring to Nigeria or Africa Joshua: {points to Naeem} He wants to move here to Africa Naeem: yeah Mali, my ancestors are from Mali Naeem: There is not really a huge engine of distribution for what we are doing, right now we are self managed and everything is on us, we have been through a bit of it where we worked for a label for a time and we had a little experience of working with a manager and had a little bit of that experience, now we a kind of on a do it yourself to see what works out best for us. It would be great to be able to have a stronger link when we produce something we can get it here to Nigeria, but that is proving difficult at this point, so what we want to do is continue to make friends like our friend Sister Khadijah and others that when we produce something new we have an anchor, so that is one thing that is always a constant challenge for us. Will you always pass your message through music or are there other channels being considered Joshua: We have talked about this and we have spoken to a couple of teachers, there are some teachers that we know of who are already using some of our songs as part of their educational curriculum in their schools to get certain points across to the youths as far as bullying, you relationship with your parents, praying in the masjid, we have had a couple of people approach us about doing a book, but it has not happened but I would say it is in the pipeline. Naeem: We also get to go out and speak, it not just going to performs, sometime we go out to do youth workshops we would eventually like to create a NATIVE DEEN themed workshop, with specific subject matters like Youth Activism, Identity and we would have workbooks, lesson plans and things and always I believe we would always have the music intertwined in it, because that is where a lot of our inspiration comes from and the message that we would talk about in the workshop will be backed up by what we are producing as a band. Joshua: [speaking of AbdulMalik] He teaches martial arts so we packed that into a show  also when we were performing in Indonesia. Tell us about growing up in the 80’s as young black American Muslims Naeem: In the early 80’s and into the 90‘s but early 80‘s especially for me one, young people where not really exposed to Islam especially in my neighborhood, my Mum raised us to be very afrocentric and that was what brought her to Islam because she was researching about our African heritage and that was something that was strange too in that neighborhood, back then there were not overwhelming majority that where connecting back to their African heritage, so we were breaking that ground of first wearing Kufis and different things like that, and weird name like Naeem, those were not normal names, so we brought something different and having to break stereotypes and having to be pioneers, it was later on in the 90’s that Islam got more influenced by Hip Hop and Muslims became more active in those black communities, it got a lot better, people knew Muslims and started calling themselves Khadijah, Omar or Bilal, even thought there were not Muslims so it was introducing a lot of cultures and neighborhood and seeing the good and bad side of it. Now my kids have it way easier in that aspect Abdul Malik: Nowadays when you go to schools, in your classrooms there might be one or two people who are Muslims. Back in the 80’s it was a lot different for example when my mum would wear the hijab and go around it was always people looking, they did not understand, but it was both a good thing and a bad thing because they did not have a negative or positive view about it, they were just ignorant they did not know anything about Islam but a lot of things changed after 9/11, so it is a very interesting time I would say Joshua: Naeem’s first sentence was ‘where I am from’ and that really says a lot because in Americas there are very many different sub cultures. We are from the DC Metro area which is very diverse, and has a certain experience that another person who comes from the Midwest of another area may not experience. There are people there who don't have that. If you drive an hour in our area you are going to hit four maybe five masjids or more so it is really a different experience when you are in America. How have things turned around since the 9/11 incidents Joshua: The 9/11 experience really tested our values as a country and initially some people did and said things that now they regret. One of the things that 9/11 did was it really raised the attention to Islam so the Quran was checked out in all of libraries, people where researching online about what this is, because you are hearing on the media that Muslims are this Muslims are that, so it kind of created some sort of a balance for the American public, some people just wanted to believe what they saw on television, but there was a lot of people that wanted to look into it and so there where people that accepted Islam after 9/11. Some people wanted to be more involved with Muslims in interfaith events after 9/11, it definitely tested our values. Naeem: Growing up in the 80’s and being a minority you grew up with an understanding of people begin aware of your presence because you are black in this neighborhood and for me that never changed pre or post 9/11. I was always very aware of my situation of who I was as African American and Muslim, whereas a lot of other people beforehand they could blend in, so then 9/11  happened and people are like oh you are from that place, those guys. Now they were having to feel what we had always felt. It is not just one experience in America. You did not hear post 9/11 in Baltimore city, they were not going to go vandalize our masjib because half their cousins are in the masjid and that is the same masjid that was doing a free food night, or they have been in the community for twenty something years, So 9/11 or not they were not going to change their perspective. Whereas in another place where the mosque just got there two years ago, they have not really built those deep  connections with their communities, 911 happens and they are like who are those people. Your message for the Nigerian youth Abdul Malik: {loudly}  We love Nigeria !!!!! Joshua: In my experience as a Youth Director, the youths who kind of stray don't feel part of a community, they don't feel like there is anybody watching them, that they have to answers to anyone, who care, but when you feel that you are part of a team and that your actions affect the entire team, positive peer pressure that is on a person to step up to the level, so I think the more that Lagosians can keep that positive pressure on their families and on their youth that we need you, you are part of our fiber and our fabric of society and your success is our countries success. I think that that message is what I would like to put out. Don't think that you don't have a role in society every single class that you go to, every fight that you avoid, every trash that you pick off the road, is part of a huge network that we depend on. Don’t minimize your efforts Naeem: Leave a positive mark that you have made a difference, live a life that you would have made a difference, even if it is not name recognition, try to live a purposeful life and try to make a difference in your own way even if it won't mean your name would end up in the history of Nigeria but Allah see all, he would see the difference you make even if you don't realize it. Find purpose in what you do and try to make the difference. AbdulMalik: I think that youth today, if you look through our history the youth they had a big role to play in revolution, and any activity that really where important. If you look at the time of the Prophet {SAW} a lot of people around him were youths, Ali was really young, in other to create that movement he needed the youth, in many countries that we go we always see that there is a night life where youth are hanging out having fun, I think if youth realize their importance and the importance of every single moment that they have, and they realize how important whatever activity they get involved with whether it is at school and they spend more time into thinking about the future of how to make their countries better and how to make their communities stronger I think it would put them. Our youth we tend to put too much time into just enjoying ourselves, as oppose to trying to make something really happen. Take to what you are good at, have fun doing it and avoid that standard fun of going out partying, try to find your own fun in whatever your passion is. Joshua: I think that pressure lies in the adult, a kindergarten teacher once told me she said ‘children have to have fun while they are learning, and they should learn while they are having fun’. Adults sometime forget how to have fun, and so when we bring youth into our arena to do stuff we don't know how to make it fun, but having that fun for the youth to be like ’oh that is so cool’ ‘I wanna be part of that rally” ‘I wanna help organize that conference’ we are not that good at making it fun. So I think the adults to do what he {AbdulMalik} is saying we have to strategize, how can we make this super exciting and fun, so that the youth wanna  be involved and they want to use their free time to help us and it is even better that hanging out. Thank you so much for your time and salam alaikum waramatulahi wabarakatu Walaikum salam waramatulahi wabarakatu. Interview by: Kemi Bawa-Allah and Hadiza Tijani  

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