News / Arts & Entertainment

Contemporary Events Inspire Arab Hip-Hop Artist

Andy Edwards

A Moroccan woman who only discovered her talent as a hip-hop performer when she came to study in London is now at the forefront of this musical genre. Master Mimz delivered her own commentary on the Arab Spring with her song, "Back Down Mubarak."

Leighton House in west London was an unlikely setting for the cutting edge sounds of hip-hop, but its former owner, the 19th century Orientalist Frederic Leighton, might well have approved.

Myriam Bouchentouf, otherwise known as Master Mimz, performed as part of the Nour Festival, sponsored by the local borough to present the broad range of Middle East culture.

Until she came to London two years ago, Bouchentouf never thought of switching from fan to performer.

"I got into hip-hop because I've always been a big fan of the music genre and I thought this was the voice of this generation, like rock music," explained Bouchentouf.

Events in Cairo's Tahrir Square in late January helped set a train of protest in motion throughout much of the Middle East. Arab hip-hop has long commented on injustice, and the musicologist Randa Safieh says Myriam Bouchentouf is helping to further more than one revolutionary cause.

"Myriam is part of the new generation of Arab hip-hop artists and female hip-hop artists are still a minority, but I think that artists like Myriam are setting a precedent for the future which is definitely a positive development for the genre," said Safieh.   

Bouchentouf's best known number, "Back Down Mubarak", was inspired not only by watching contemporary events in Egypt - it stemmed from a lifelong affinity for Egyptian culture.

"Growing up in Morocco we had a lot of access to Egyptian culture whether it was movies, films, arts and I guess, in a way, I always felt that closeness, and I think the whole Arab world can attest to that and say that Egyptian culture was very important to us, so when it happened, I automatically felt a connection," she explained.

Much of Myriam's material is personal.  She has plenty to say about being a woman in Arab society.

In the driving rhythms of hip-hop, musicologist Randa Safieh believes youth in the Middle East are also following long established tradition.

"Part of the reason that young Arabs are attracted to hip-hop is that in Arab culture, poetry is very highly revered, and the spoken word, and there a lot of parallels between that and Arab hip-hop," Safieh added.

Hip-hop as a musical form has been going for 30 years. As an Arab woman, Myriam Bouchentouf, aka Master Mimz, is providing fresh perspective in a time of turbulence.

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