Friday, December 30, 2011

A Feeling

It starts with a feeling.

It starts with a beautiful madness.

It starts in the harbour of hearts
where the art is unmasked and you sail just to see if you can.

And each word is a boat, each boat in a storm,
is tattered and torn, battered and worn as the sails above,
patched together out of phantom histories,
alphabets of lovers and the hides of cities we miss.

We live only to say, "I am here. I exist."
we live for the times
when inspiration creeps up and surprises you like love,
when fortune means family
and truth appears as briefly as a whale's back.

So let the the clocks drip,
let us sail through white noise.
as we write letters to our kids of love and war,
of suffering, the shuffling of great feet, the beating of great oars,
of harbours, of beauty,
of dignity.

It starts with a feeling, and ends with a beginning.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

ARCHITECTURE

This is a new(ish) poem I have only performed a handful of times. People seem to dig it so I chucked it up here. I guess it's a love poem. Sort of.


Architecture

She tried to apply her architecture to our lives.

She tried to build our lives along straight lines
of order, ladders, latticework, brickwork and mortar,
and deep aqueducts underneath to keep us nourished with water.

I never told her- "I have travelled unshod
along distant and pockmarked highways
to meet you here my dear.

I sailed on oceans of eggshells.
I camped in deserts of charcoal, burned spinifex and hurt,
resting in hovels and outhouses,
pieced together out of debris making form
outta chaos no payoffs in a life attempting to make joy out of pathos
I travelled unshod for you
my scarred flanks holding histories of love and loathing,
grudges clubs, drugs and cruel liquors, and me here hoping,
all the time with you in the distance,
a dreamlike lighthouse,
the raw glow of an open flame and a siren's song
with that skin a darker shade than bronze, and your promise of
perfectly pieced geometry, mosaics, skilfully drafted architecture of love,
I should have told you how far I'd come to meet you."

But when you told me you had been pregnant
with my child but decided not to keep it,
I didn't think of the airy domes, the picket fence houses where I could raise my
never to be born son or daughter, I didn't think of the women
in my hometown whose faces were inked with loss and the men
who raised the back of their hands or went running.

Instead I built coliseums of amber bottles
to lie in,
like a mock latter-day pharaoh or emperor,
staring upwards.
In the nadir of febrile nights
I would swim up through the sweat, shake myself awake,
and go stalking and
snarling into the cosmos.
I watched the prophets of my age preaching in parks creating myths or
strapped up with Krylon cans painting street hieroglyphs,
smoking spliffs in alleys reeking of piss.
I stared deep into TV screens as if into the black bore of a gun, numb,
I patted the heirloom diamond ring that I would never give you
and under the manifold lights of weeping suns and whirling moons,
neon billboards, halogen lights and blacklit rooms,
You would appear
stepping solemnly like a sleepwalker,
beautiful, wounded and haughty and severe.
I would freeze your tears and crucify you with them.

We both loved to suffer didn't we?

And there are two sides to every poem, aren't there?

You will be my Iliad, my epic.
You will be my Petra, my relic.

The desert is laced with ruins,
threaded with the skeletal remains
of boom and bust cities
once opulent with water
and the architecture of hearts.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Play On lyrics



PLAY ON
by
Omar Musa


This is a warning to everyone.

Tomorrow is not your friend.

Tomorrow is a visitor whose arrival you cannot prepare for, whose moodswings you cannot anticipate. You cannot anticipate because you never know whether he arrives at your door bearing flowers or a handgun, but you know that he approaches by the hour.

This is a warning.

Never let the fire in the lamp burn low. Never stop making your music, even if the record is scratched, the needle is snapped and the mic is unplugged- play on.

Even when you stand looking out over treacherous reefs, where coral is like the blades of razors, where the sky is glimmering coal above sharks and shimmering shoals. Where you wade through tides of information (some right, some wrong, some plain insane) waves of opinion so powerful they threaten to drown you- play on.

Even when it feels as if friendship is a battleground, where the breeze is rich with ego and mistrust, where the burnished sun is blackened by a billion arrows that sing with the clarity of birds. Where we exchange pugilistic words in bourbon bars and hotted up cars, where we feel as if we are the flotsam and jetsam of marooned ideals- play on.

Even when the rejection letters stack up like a pyramid and they tell you that you have no talent and that no-one wants to hear an Aussie rapper from a small town and no fucking radio station will play you and you scream and scream and nobody hears you- play on.

But I'm not sure why we should, when clearly the odds are stacked against us. And I know that men's hearts are pastures that bloom with darkness. And when I look up at a crystalline structure of stars… I see just that.

All I know is that I am blessed to be here and that some day soon this man of passion and lust will be ashes and dust. And they will sprinkle me back into the soil from which I sprang and I don't want my final whisper to be a lament. I want to say that I sipped from the chalice when it was handed to me, that I leapt from the cliffs when the moment demanded it. That even though the record was scratched, the needle was snapped and the mic was unplugged, I played on.

This is a warning to everyone. Tomorrow is not your friend. So never let the fire in the lamp burn low. Because you never know when today might end.

My Generation lyrics

Some students/teachers/people have asked for the lyrics to my poems My Generation and Play On. I resisted for a while but since some of the students are studying these poems in class, I thought it might make it easier to have the lyrics than have to transcribe them. Here you go! -OBM



My Generation
by
Omar Musa

My generation sat on the brim of the ocean,
waiting for the tide to bring something in.

My generation
was populated with boozehounds and pillheads,
crude clowns and bedspreads stained with the
neon dreams of cocaine fiends,
I mean
the diamond flooded visions of sex kittens
who sweat bullets, glitter and Chanel
I mean
the ones who
live in debt buy spray cans of fake tan
I mean
the ones who drop out of college to get collagen
hoping to hook with pop collar gen Y men with
copycat tattoos,
footy contracts and right angled jaws.
Hoping to ride
amphetamine horses and red Porsches
into clubs
whose shelf life is over right.
about.
NOW.

My generation
took solace in
false prophets who promised change
and did more of the same,
whose ideologies of optimism
were turned into
fridge magnets and bumper stickers-
YES WE CAN

Yes, we witnessed
prime ministers slain.
Hushed coups in the halls of parliament-
heads rolled over bad polls, tongues lolled,
drums rolled as newspapers harmonised like baying wolves.
New kings and queens smiled for the all seeing camera's eyes
that blink but never flinch.
Freshly anointed "leaders" with polished teeth and long knives-
they would smile
deep down knew that
the guillotine waited also for them.

My generation
bloomed with the blood of artists
who sent messages in bottles
that ended up lodged in bleached coral,
and humanity was a deep fossil to be fossicked
some day by a people other than us.
While the traditional custodians of the land
sweated in the concrete gizzards of govvo flats
left wing activists sipped red wine
and talked of reform.

My generation had hot buttered sex to
cookie cutter music.
We made autotuned love and men learnt how
to have sex on a curriculum of
pixellated pink pornstar pussy
and double D tits and digital dicks.

We made love between oil spills and massacres,
tangoed between
the headlines of history,
flitting between
hush love making and murder,
draughts of cool wine and hellish salt pans wimpling
with dancing mirages
that brought brief joy to our desiccated hearts.

My generation never stopped being children.

We grew wearier, but not wiser,
we grew older, but not up,
and our only possessions were our winged imaginations,
sitting on the brim of the ocean,
waiting for the tide to bring something in.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gold Dust Woman

Soooo,
every year, my good friends Michael Nolan, Easy Bee and Sean M. Whelan put on a show called Liner Notes. They get a famous album, give writers of all different descriptions a song each to write spoken word responses to and then get them to perform the pieces to an adoring crowd. It's always an amazing night. The album this time was Fleetwood Mac- Rumours. The song I got was Gold Dust Woman. I wrote this a while back so some of the lines have popped up in newer poems but I got a few requests to put the piece up so here. We. GO!

GOLD DUST WOMAN

Gold dust woman, white powder dreams,
silver spoon nightmares, red neon beams,
blue smoke plumes, black fire hair,
I saw bright worlds in your crystalline stare.

But nevertheless, I asked you,
can we stay like this forever?
like this
weighed down by each other's fingerprints and
garlands of kisses
that you hang on my eyelids
like this
plummeting through wells of wistful nights
making love under the manifold lights of weeping suns and whirling moons,
halogen bulbs, neon billboards and blacklit rooms,
like this
in febrile bedsheets bloom fire and steam swoon perspired droplets afire and soon
hair inkspreads on pillowcases from Sydney to California.
like this, where I worship in awe
that spot on your collarbone scented like driven snow and arctic ice
and we unite from shaking flesh, pinned limbs, swimming linen to the tremulous core.

You called me amor, love and corazon, heart,

And it seemed that like this would last forever

But then time tripped and forever flipped into one single moment,
one phrase of time that couldn't last
and
I saw you smile a slow knowing smile
and I knew you knew
the truth of me
that I would love you forever, even when we weren't together,
I would dance with you on palpitating skylines that beat like a dying heart or tribal drum.

That night, I didn't realise it would be the last time you lead me by the wrist to a bed of nails,
I sweated hail,
read in braille the secret messages you left in the opal scars on me,
a cursive of the wounds of love,
for the last time I set sail on the diamond lake
backflipped into the icy crevasse
with my mistress, my princess, my temptress
temperature went way down and then you were gone.

I couldn't eat, I stopped rhyming,
I vomited comets, black onyx and black diamonds

I went running and shaking through the city
heart drumming and breaking,
draped in flames, like a screaming beserker,
swelling and shaking
shook and shattered like shards of ice
and scattered like cards and dice
into pieces on the asphalt.

Because love like addiction like war,
can be over and not over, you can simultaneously survive and not survive,

so now I roam so alone, in obscure and remote reaches,
left to pick up the pieces
and go home.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Year of the MoneyKat Mixtape

Some of you may know I am in a hip hop group named MoneyKat with Californian MC Mighty Joe. It is my main priority at the moment- over poetry, over solo career, over partying, over everything! We just put out a mixtape and people really seem to be getting into it. Check it out and pass it on. It's FREEEEE:

Monday, May 30, 2011

"Nothing is Safe"- our first MoneyKat single!!

"Nothing is Safe" is the first single from our debut album "MoneyKat". Mad production from Lotek (Roots Manuva, Speech Debelle) and the soulful vocal stylings of Candice Monique. Download it, ride to it, blaze to it, pass it on.

Nothing Is Safe feat. Candice Monique (prod. by Lotek) by MoneyKat

Saturday, April 9, 2011

New video- "My Generation"

Omar Musa x Spader Clothing. One of the coolest things I've ever done. Check it. If you like it, post it, tweet it, blog it, pass it on:

Monday, April 4, 2011

"Multiculturalism or Not?"




"Multiculturalism or not- should we have Lakembas and Cabramattas?"
by Omar Musa

Speech given at the Manning Clark House Weekend of Big Ideas at the National Museum of Australia, April 2, 2011.

Good afternoon. I am honoured to be here alongside these distinguished guests. I would like to start off by acknowledging the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we stand, the Ngunnawal people, their elders past and present.

I accepted the invitation to talk here today with a mixture of excitement and great nervousness. Although I studied at university, I have made a name for myself in the world of hip-hop and poetry not academia and have never given a speech of this nature. But I thought that this topic would challenge me to think about the inherent complexities and contradictions of this nation and to question the nature of Australia itself. I come from a mixed heritage. My mother is from a family who moved here from Ireland in the 1800s and were pioneers in Queanbeyan, the town I eventually grew up in. My father is from Borneo, East Malaysia and I was raised as a Muslim. I grew up praying five times a day, fasting during Ramadhan, attending Friday prayers. But besides the occasional racist slur pointed my way, I grew up very comfortable with my religion, my skin colour, the fact that I spoke another language at home as well as English. I was proud to be a Muslim Malaysian-Australian, despite the fact that all throughout my childhood I was asked “no, but where are you really from?” Then September 11 happened, and everything started to get a bit wilder. The angst and outrage in the Australian media and amongst politicians, the almost immediate vilification of Muslim Australians, the casually racist language in bars and on buses about “sand niggers” and “towel heads” and “terrorists” that intensified (and almost seemed to become acceptable) confused me at first and then led to a deep sense of dislocation. It is a horrible sensation to feel unwanted in a country you were born and raised in. Of course then it all came to a head when the Cronulla riots occurred, and I started to question many things about this country, which is why I agreed to talk here outside my normal realm.

Multiculturalism is fundamentally a murky idea. It is fraught with difficulty and chicken-and-the-egg dilemmas, primarily because definition of the word itself is so varied. I’ll start by saying that many people, including many prominent politicians and historians, see multiculturalism as a militant defiance of "mainstream Australia" (which is code for Anglo-Celtic Australia). They see it as people choosing to fraternise only with those of their own ethnic and language groups in ghettoised communities which leads to fracture and disharmony in the nation. The answer to this perceived problem is often a vague “they should be a bit more like us”, “they just don’t quite get it” rhetoric which really amounts to assimilation of sorts- the idea that there is a necessity to conform to the “norm” to achieve homogeneity. But many go even further than that. You may have noticed that recently on Australia Day, it is common to see shirts and hats emblazoned with the Australian flag, but more disturbingly , shirts that say “Fuck Off We’re Full” or “This is Australia- We Eat Meat, We Drink Beer and We Speak English- if you don’t like it, get out!” This attitude has even affected my own musical community, Australian hip-hop, a community that has always been based around the ideas of understanding and accepting difference and of people from all backgrounds coming together to appreciate music. It doesn’t seem to be the artists themselves who hold these attitudes (which is great) but many of us have been dismayed at the racist, xenophobic attitudes of a younger generation of Australian hip-hop fans, who see the value not really in the music itself, but only in the fact that it is “Australian”, a vessel for their nationalism. I can tell you I have received plenty of emails and comments online about going home to where I come from, or "this is supposed to be Aussie hip-hop” or “our country’s full”.

Funnily, I think that this “fuck off we’re full” mentality just a crude way of expressing how a lot of Aussie politicians, media and people in the public really think, evidenced by the way “the dog whistle” seems to be a weapon that is invariably effective in Australian politics. We saw that it worked again and again for John Howard and it nearly won Tony Abbott the last election (and may very well win him the next one). As someone who doesn’t know much about politics, it seems to me that Labor is also guilty of this, especially with regard to asylum seekers. Even hearing Julia Gillard the other day speak about brickies and ordinary people "driven by a love of family and nation” smacks of some sort of dreary and insecure nationalism. The treatment of asylum seekers and that they are labelled as a problem by politicians and the media who then use them as political pawns, and the fact that the public eats it all up, amounts to a portrait of a nation defined by small minded fearfulness, not to a “fair go” and “mateship” and compassion for the safety of desperate people risking life and limb for a better future. We all know this. People are far less concerned about illegal overstayers from Ireland and England than immigrants from Pakistan or Afghanistan. It reminds me of the "Beautiful Balts" ads from the "Populate or Perish" days, that showed images of pretty, blonde Baltic immigrants who were more palatable because they were white. Historical events echo and I think it would be na├»ve to assume that attitudes like this can be buried in just a few generations. I hate to say it, but as far as I see it, attitudes towards asylum seekers boil down to an almost primal gut fear of those who look different and speak differently, a fear of the other and a really obvious insecurity in this nation that no amount of flag waving and jingoism can hide.

All of this raises the interesting notion that white Australia has indigenised its presence in Australia to the point where all new migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds and ironically, Aboriginal Australians, are seen as outsiders and ought to be measured up against what “Australian” is. It is a sub-conscious sense that the invaders have now become the invaded. This actually allows me to return to the earlier idea of assimilation. How is it that immigrants are expected to assimilate so immediately into Australian society when white Australia never integrated into black Australia, an Australia of hundreds of cultural and language groups? When there was so little attempt by white Australia to understand Aboriginal Australia, a problem that carries on through until today (from the education system to the streets)? If we are to ask if we ought to have Lakembas and Cabramattas, then should we also ask if there should be Port Stephens or Dubbos? As Ghassan Hage cheekily asked, have white Australians fraternised in their own gangs to the exclusion of others for far too long? I’m not trying to play a blame game here, I’m just saying that the argument about multiculturalism should not just be one way traffic against Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds, or those with dark skin. There is no historical precedent for this so called "assimilation", so to me it holds very little water and is fairly laughable.

However, multiculturalism has become a bit of a dirty word to many on the left also, with many people telling me that it is condescending and inherently racist because it creates an insider/outsider divide of a patient Anglo-Australia tolerating those who are different. That until Anglo-Celtic Australian experience and the culture of settlement is seen in the broader spectrum of Australia alongside the history Aboriginal Australia, trade between the Yolgnu and the Makassans, Vietnamese immigration, etc, and not at the epicentre, multiculturalism will always be a hollow notion. As a side note, however, I wanted to point out that I have spent a bit of time in the multicultural arts world and in working class “ethnic” neighbourhoods and found a casual racism and hatred side towards "whites" or "Skips" that I found poisonous and divisive and I suspect didn't exist to that extent when I was a kid. It goes to show that the Southern Cross tattoos, the patriotic car stickers and the taunting racist facebook sites serve no purpose but to make people bitter and more likely to define themselves in opposition to you.

I am not a policy maker or a political junkie, so I can only speak as an artist. I think as artists we need to keep holding politicians and the mainstream media to account, to point out flaws and contradictions in Australian society and question them, but also, as people of non-English speaking backgrounds, to be brave enough to question our own attitudes and prejudices. In a more basic way, I think it is important for people such as myself, with “ethnic” backgrounds, to tell our stories and tell them well, to represent people and communities in Australia who are often vilified but are really just ordinary people leading lives of dignity. This is all in the hope that we can live a bit more comfortably, a bit less insecurely with the myriad ethnicities and cultures of this country.




Writer's note: I originally named this "My first academic speech" on this blog. This was a misnomer and I have subsequently changed it.