Rappers bring horror of Syrian Civil War to life in lyrics

Mad Fox, in a still from a Sham MC's video by Egyptian director Yassin Gabriel.

The Sham MC’s have refused to let war in their country dash their dreams of hip-hop stardom.

I first met Syrian hip-hop group Sham MC’s in a basement studio in Damascus in late 2010.

The scene was full of youthful energy. They were recording their second album, and spoke of how Syrian people were hungry for their new style of music as part of a movement to open up to the rest of the world.

Their specific sound, influenced by 90’s acts like Bone Thugs and Wu-Tang, with traditional Middle Eastern instruments mixed in, and with lyrics in both English and Arabic, was part of a musical movement they believed would help lead their country out of isolation and connect it with the West.

Just a few months later, youth in the southern city of Deraa were caught posting anti-government graffiti at school. A brutal reprimand prompted protest, which begat another crackdown, and more protests.

Before long the country was in flames. A full fledged civil war between President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and opposition forces has now been raging for well over two years, leaving millions of civilians in the crossfire.

No one in that basement studio had seen it coming.

2011 Seattle Globalist video profiling the Sham MC’s.

Yesterday I caught up one of the members of Sham MC’s, 26 year old “Mad Fox”. He and two other members of the group fled Damascus and are currently living in Cairo.

In a conversation via Google Chat (a new experiment for Globalist interviews!), Mad Fox told me how the tragedy unfolding in Syria has changed his life, and influenced the group’s music.

Seattle Globalist:  So what’s the latest project for Sham MC’s?

Mad Fox: A song called “Haween”

It’s three verses, all in Arabic.

It talks about what the people in Syria want right now.

They want the war to stop.

They so tired of this life.

I don’t call it a life even.

Tired of war.

SG: Do you still have a lot of family there?

Mad Fox:  Yeah, all of our famillies are still there.

Do you know what haween means?

SG:  No.

Tell me.

Mad Fox:  It’s the most simple kind of missle that so easy to be made.

So they use it a lot in Syria and every week it hits citizens.

One of our band members got injured by it while he was just walking in the street one day.

He is fine now, but it was a close call.

So it was his idea and we made the song.

SG:  It’s a really powerful song, even without being able to understand the lyrics.

Mad Fox:  Yeah, you can feel it.

SG: Tell me about the makeup you guys are wearing now.

Mad Fox: In our video?

SG: Yeah.

Mad Fox: That was our logo since we started the zipped face. But if you look closely at it you find words. Which means that face has a lot to say but he couldn’t for a lot of reasons. We just feel as a band that now is a new stage in our band career so we decided to bring this face to life and make it known in the world. So in the video u see the face but the zipper is open and he is talking.

Another thing for the makeup — some people said we look scary and like skulls. Well that’s also because the idea is we coming back from death after leaving Syria alive.

Sham Mcs LogoSG: You’re in Cairo now?

Mad Fox: Yeah.

But leaving soon, all of us.

SG: Where will you go?

Mad Fox: Istanbul

SG: Oh, that should be great!

How long ago did you leave Syria and why did you decide to leave?

Mad Fox: 24 years since I was born I never left it.

Because its ain’t safe no more.

And there are no jobs.

SG: Was there something specific that happened that made you say “this is it, we’ve got to get out of here?”

Mad Fox: Seeing all the drama that’s going on, you feel it might be [you] someday, so you don’t want to happen to you.

There was a lot of kidnapping, even if you are a random citizen.

And it’s got nothing to do with what’s goin on.

You might be kidnapped and they call the families for money.

That’s just one issue.

Don’t forget the bombing on random citizens also.

We talked about this in our songs.

SG:  When we met back in 2010 in Damascus you guys seemed to be pretty careful to keep your music non-political. Has that changed now?

Mad Fox: We’re still non-political.

And everything changed.

We were living a normal life.

Now not a single person in Syria is living a normal life.

SG: Do you have an idea of how this conflict might end?

Mad Fox: No one has. But I’m not optimistic about it at all.

SG: So you picture yourself living in Istanbul long-term? Do you have refugee status now?

Mad Fox: Yes long term. No, I don’t.

SG: Do other guys in the group?

Mad Fox: None

SG: So you left to Cairo to be safer. Did you bring any family or girlfriends or anyone with you?

Mad Fox: We tried but living here was hard too so still need more time to do that.

SG: Yeah, tell me about that. Egypt isn’t exactly a stable place these days either.

Mad Fox: It is, but also no opportunities.

Maybe it’s good for business men, but for a guy who is starting his life from nothing it’s a waste of time.

You work and work and stay in your place.

SG: Has your music been well received there?

Mad Fox: Yeah, we did many shows.

Our video was shot here too, with an Egyptian friend.

SG: Is it easier to do a hip-hop show there than it was in Damascus (before the war started)

Mad Fox: Yeah, more places, more organizers, more media, more everything.

SG: Are there Egyptian rappers that you like?

Mad Fox: No

SG: Hahaha

Mad Fox: lol

SG: There just aren’t any, or they’re weak?

Mad Fox: You asked me if I like them. It’s very hard to make me like you

because I criticize so hard.

SG: Fair enough.

Going back to that video with the zipper makeup — what’s the first song called?

Sham MC’s video “Syria in Hip-Hop” by Egyptian Director Yassin Gabriel.

Mad Fox: “1st of the month”

We didn’t drop it yet.

It’s a coming soon project

actually all the music in the video is like this.

Three songs that we didn’t drop yet.

Waiting for the right timing.

SG: So like the Bone Thugs song?

Mad Fox: And we have a lot of ready music in our studio, but all waiting for the right time. Hope it will be soon.

Yeah close to that Bone Thugz but we wanted make it closer to Arabs.

To our 9 to 5 people.

SG: Are Bone Thugs still your favorite American rappers ever? Any others you like?

Mad Fox: Yea they are still, I tell you what the whole band love in general. Cuz every one of us like different people.

Eminem D12, 2pac Outlaws, Tech 9 and the Strange Music Family

From the new people Kendrick Lamar is hot.

We like Snoop Lion but not Snoop Dogg if you know what I mean

SG: What’s the story behind Syria Will Never Die?

Mad Fox: Well this song is like a movie

It was a short movie idea

And we made it a song.

And every body listen to it say I just saw a movie not a song.

SG: Yeah, I’m listening now. It just got crazy sad.

Mad Fox: Exactly

So 1st verse a little girl name SHAM which means Damascus in arabic same as in SHAM MCS is going shopping with her dad a new dress for being a good student.

On a way they find a little boy selling gum which is 2nd verse

3rd verse Mic Son a Tourist in Damascus so happy.

So the 1st part of the song describing Damascus and Syria image before the violence starts.

Then the bombing happens.

Then SHAMI 4th verse describing the terror that happened.

5th verse me as the tourist brother, I couldn’t recognize him because he was burned. Which we want to say to the world its not only Syrians are being harmed by this, it will inflict on anybody.

6th verse they are trying to save people and also talking about how people feel after all this. And then screaming SHAM WILL never DIE

SG: What do you hope listeners will take away from a song like this?

Mad Fox: I just hope listeners will find ways to help people and do good and bring peace in every way they can in their daily  life. whether it’s small steps or big. Good is good.

We all have the same blood at the end

SG: Thank you. That’s probably a good note to end on. Any last thing you want to say to American/Seattle readers?

Mad Fox: Sure

Arabs are like every nation in the world there is good there is bad and there is great. Don’t judge all by only maybe one bad person you met or heard about.

And remember this, My country is the World and my Religion is to do good. We all from God and God is Love

SG: One more thing and I’ll let you go. You guys are religious?

Mad Fox: Well there is everything in the band, hahaha.

SG: Some Christian, some Muslim?

Mad Fox: Yeah this and that and some have their own philosophy about this whole thing

and we live in harmony with each other lol.

The cover of Sham MC's single "Haween" designed by Elias Shalhoub.
The cover of Sham MC’s single “Haween,” designed by Elias Shalhoub.

Can I mention a story????

SG: Sure.

Mad Fox: I just remembered something very important.

We had a tour in Arizona and NY

but they didn’t give us the visa.

We had 3 concerts.

SG: Oh no!

Mad Fox: The funds were going for Syrian refugees.

We applied for visa in Cairo.

But they said we not sure you’re coming back so no visa.

It was a very important step to us,

and the guy who worked on this is a reverend in a church in Arizona.

He put a lot of effort too.

We were so excited finally we can make Syria’s voice reach so far.

SG: And for a good cause. I’m really sorry to hear that. It would have been great to have you guys in the U.S.

To hear more from Sham MC’s check out their profile on Reverb Nation.

Tags: , , .