The Ford Theatres, in association with the Arab Film and Media Institute, presents An Evening of Hip-Hop and Arabic Poetry with Omar Offendum on August 16. From the jasmine tree-lined courtyards of Nizar Qabbani’s Damascene homes to the flooded riverbanks of Langston Hughes’ Harlem Renaissance poems, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist (2018-2019) Omar Offendum, accompanied by oud (Middle Eastern lute) virtuoso Ronnie Malley, percussionists, and a DJ, will deliver a one-of-a-kind performance that bridges the ancient oral and musical traditions of the Middle East and North Africa with contemporary hip-hop and spoken word. For this intimate event, audiences will be seated on the Ford stage with the artists.
Omar Offendum is a Syrian-American rapper and poet living in Los Angeles. Known for blending hip-hop and Arabic poetry, he has lectured at a number of museums, educational and cultural institutions including The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, LACMA, Arab American National Museum, Poets House, Qatar Foundation International and the Nobel Peace Prize Forum. A graduate of the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture, he has helped raise millions of dollars for various humanitarian relief groups and has been able to carve a distinct path for himself as a thoughtful entertainer and activist able to speak to a multitude of relevant issues over the course of his decade-long career.
Offendum explains, “Poetry is the backbone of the Arabic language and holds such a huge place in Arabic, Middle Eastern and North African cultures.”
Offendum studied in an immersive Arabic School in Washington D.C. and poetry was an important part of the curriculum. Through this exposure to poetry, from the medieval ages to modern day, he was able to link it to the hip-hop he was listening to. Both the music and the poetry aimed for a kind of storytelling that connected emotion and expression. As Offendum grew up, he became more aware of the demonization of people from the Arab world in the media, and thought poetry and hip-hop could help explain his culture from a familiar perspective and break down cultural barriers.
“I was always aware that hip-hop was a tool that could be used to highlight some serious sociopolitical issues,” he explains in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. “When protests erupted in Syria, I saw a place that I had known so well become a hotbed for one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has ever seen and I have family there, so I’m deeply connected to the issue in a very personal way. Speaking for them is important to me when they’re telling me to use the platform that I have to tell their stories. If you create art that is engaging, entertaining, thoughtful and gives people pause, you’re creating spaces that allow the building of solidarity between communities.”
“The conflict in Syria is devastating to watch unfold,” said Ford Theatres Executive Director Olga Garay-English. “The arts have a wonderful capacity to help us find meaning in the face of so much suffering. At the Ford, we work hard to create a space where everyone feels welcome, where opportunities for deeper cross-cultural understanding can take place. Omar Offendum’s use of hip-hop, poetry and music to engage audiences about what is happening brings these issues to our stage in a very powerful way.”
This event is part of IGNITE @ the FORD!, a series presented by the Ford Theatre Foundation comprised of nationally and internationally-renowned artists whose work is contemporary and reflective of the world in which we live. Seating is very limited for this intimate IGNITE on stage experience. Tickets are available by visiting FordTheatres.org or by calling 323.461.3673.