Read on as we catch up with Ahmad Ikhlas, an international dub poet, reggae and garage musician who draws on his Jamaican heritage and his British upbringing to form a unique style of music and poetry, used in praise of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
We are curious to know more about what led you to being a dub poet, reggae and garage artist? Could you tell us more about your developmental experience and the influences that shaped you to do what you do today?
I grew up listening to reggae in it’s various forms Rock steady, ska, dancehall, lovers rock revival etc. I guess it’s part and parcel of growing up in a Caribbean household. This genre had a strong influence on my style and delivery as a Garage MC which came as second nature and something I unconsciously perceived. I’d perform weekly on Pirate Radio stations and in clubs. When I became serious about practising my faith I gradually took a backseat from performing. In this time I used to listen to a lot of acappella nasheeds. I felt is was quite refreshing listening to singing without music. There were so many styles and languages but I thought the Caribbean representation in this category was lacking. So I decided to write Islamic songs which took on a dub poetry form.
How has travel shaped your art?
Travelling has made me realise that music is universal and despite it’s varying styles and languages there’s an essence in it that resonates with us all. It’s the language of love that we all recognise and understand. Incorporating love in the music is a precious thing that I appreciate.
Your lyrics explore Prophetic stories, your own experience of your conversion to Islam and praise of God amongst other areas. What are the lyrics you have written which most resonate with you/ that are most profound to you?
“I want to be knower” because it tells a story that so many people can relate to. The time when a person realises that they want to have a deeper personal relationship with The Creator in contrast to something mundane and mechanical.
What are lyrics and lines of poetry you grew up with written by others that had the most influence and impact on you?
Bob Marley “Don’t worry/3 Little Birds” This song always seems to uplift everyone’s spirits every time it’s played. Seeing this reaction always puts a smile on one’s face. The lyrics are super simple but incredibly powerful and everyone knows them!
We once saw you perform the story of Joseph at Rumi’s Cave, what attracted you to telling this prophetic story?
This is such a profound story in the Qur’an, which is called the best of stories.
It’s always a good story to tell as there are so many lessons to be learnt from it.
I first heard it in song form sung by Sarah Yaseen. I thought it was very nice.
I guess that song inspired me to some degree. I remember one day I began freestyling or vibing, toying with a few lines that I came up with. From there it just seemed to write itself. To be honest I still haven’t completed the story. So the completion is in working progress.
What advice would you give young Muslims who are interested in the music scene and are worried about striking a balance between faith and creative expression?
The first step is intention. Once that foundation is established, then the balance will naturally follow. Example: if a person intended to do music which was faith based and they wanted it to appeal to a universal audience, they could make adjustments accordingly with regards to the wording, style etc.
What has been the inspiration behind your latest upcoming album?
Currently I am not working on an album. I have been working on different kinds of genres. Some are religious and some generic. I feel I want to do some songs that everyone can relate to, rather than only preaching to the converted.
How would you introduce a newcomer to African and Afro-Caribbean Sufism/ Islamic Spirituality?
It’s important for new Muslims who wish to embark on the path of Tassawuf/ Sufism to have grounded knowledge in Islam before commencing. This will make the journey easier because the individual would be more rooted in knowledge. I’d definitely recommend looking into the West African Islamic tradition. Islam in West Africa has a long history dating back to the 10th century and Tassawuf is uniquely practiced to a high degree and holds an esteemed status.
What is your life mission with your art form and what do you hope to achieve / what impact do you hope to have in the long-term?
My mission from start was to represent being an African Caribbean AND Muslim, with our own unique culture and deep historical roots whilst teaching my children their heritage in a meaningful way. Often times people convert to Islam and feel the pressure of leaving their culture behind as if it is all inherently bad, whereas Islam did not arrive to remove one’s identity or character but rather to perfect it, by siphoning out the negative traits or aspects of culture and replacing it with something better. The need for my artwork and its style is amplified because of the lack of representation of Caribbean’s in the modern Muslim community, and due to a tirade of misunderstandings. However in recent years things have improved.
In Conversation With Ahmad Ikhlas: On Dub Poetry, Faith and TravelTweet