Written By Neville Ewers
The days of Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X are long gone, our Jose Martis are now Ricky Martins. Revolutionaries have become a thing of the past only found on museum walls or in Cuba (for the moment). We live in a system where instead of being kept silent, we are handed the bare minimum to feel we are better off not complaining. Inserting Boonaa Mohammed into this equation surely alters the thought process, if not the outcome itself. The first generation Canadian poet, writer and performer who grew up in a Muslim family is now world renowned for his accounts on social injustice, religion and youth upliftment.
During the late 80’s and early 90’s, the hip hop culture exploded from the streets of New York into middle class homes across the globe. The widespread phenomenon grew at such a rapid pace, you’d think hip hop was being dumped into our dams and tainting our water supplies. Like many who grew up during that period, Boonaa fell in love with the culture. Unlike many, Boonaa has since denounced and distanced himself from everything it represents. “I slowly became disengaged from that life” he told us. “It’s just my opinion, which is biased, but a lot of it is completely phony. This is a culture based on ‘I am better than you,’ ‘I am cooler than you’.”
Boonaa saw a culture that was forcing, and rewarding artists for turning their backs on the social issues they believed in. He expressed to us how “even the most conscious politically motivated rapper has a silly song, a club song, but you need those, that’s the reality of it”. His own belief in what his idols stood for was in question, and reached a stage where he decided his work would “not be about part time, that’s (hip hop social commentary) part time working. We have to embody what we say, if you are not 100 percent real to what you speak about then you might as well not say it.”
As a Muslim, Boonaa Mohammed decided his talents were better suited to fighting for a nation that was severely stereotyped worldwide and has since been under attack, mostly by the main stream media – Islam.
“Aside from on America’s Most Wanted, we are not wanted here. ‘Cause my color and last name still sparks fear “– Green Card.
The transition was evident while watching a compilation of Boonaa’s past and present performances. The ”genius in baggy jeans” was now the “slave to Allah”. Boonaa related “Where in the early years it was clear he was trying to speak to me, it moved to where he had a message to preach to me”. For someone that had started to gain the mass following he had in his previous days, a reaction among peers and fans was expected. “The moment you begin to get into religion or talk about organised belief, it becomes …I thought you were smarter than that, you’re an artist, you’re supposed to be free from that… I ask…Why?”, he explained to us.
The awards and accolades seem to have made no impact on distracting Boonaa from focusing on his mission, but they have helped to build his progression as a writer and performer. With a published story in a Penguin Canada anthology and his current work as a playwright, Boonaa continues to establish the fact he’s a writer first, not just a poet. “Poetry is just another stylistic form, it gives me a lot of freedom (compared to other writing forms), and it has almost spoiled me”, he told us. “In poetry you can be random; you can just break out into song, then go quiet, then be psychotic halfway through.”
This ability to find different ways to express himself on stage is a significant part of why he has been dubbed the “voice of a generation”. “It’s a lot of pressure,” he chuckled, “but being the voice of a generation means I’m trying to give more voices as well. Sometimes we speak because others don’t have the voice to do it. I’d rather not be the voice of a generation, but I do it because there are so few capable of doing it; my goal is to train others to be able to use their voices. “
With his witty phrases, comedic sense and overall charismatic presence, Boonaa has an ability to share his views with written words in a way that allows almost everyone to be open to his opinions and advice. His online videos are bombarded with words of hope and praise from people of every walk of life, religion and race. The performances themselves are some of the most inspiring poetry-related pieces you will ever encounter; the words are not heard, they are felt.
Nowhere is this more evident than between the lines of his poem Priorities. “I swear to God, I do not feel comfortable swearing to God, because I am not sure my faulty words will do him justice”. Upon completing this sentence while performing the poem in one of his videos, Boonaa Mohammed broke down into tears. His passion is testament to his pure, untainted belief in what he speaks. In a time where talent is used and abused simply as a bridge towards wealth and fame, it’s uplifting to see talent being nurtured and shared behind a pure motive. The question we should ask ourselves is if the man labelled the voice of a generation finds his voice to be insufficient a medium to share with the powers that be, where exactly does that leave the rest of us?
Aesthetics Now sought the advice of Boonaa for our readers, like-minded in wanting to make a greater change in society through the influences of art, in sharing a few words of encouragement to aid in fuelling that passion.
“Whatever you do, just be true to your own message and purpose. Every company or organization when starting out writes a mission statement, what will be your own? As long as you are able to stick to your principals and morals, you will find yourself doing what you love no matter the costs.”