Hijabi Artist Channels Beyoncé For Debut Of Her 'Resistance Music' And Video
Mona Haydar is a Syrian-American artist from Flint, Mich. She wears a hijab with pride. She's been a performance poet for 13 years, writing about love, trauma, loss and joy.
Earlier this month, she did something different. She released her first rap song, "Hijabi," along with an accompanying video. In just a few days, the music video went viral, with more than 1 million views on Facebook. Produced by Tunde Olaniran, it's reminiscent of Beyoncé's Lemonade visual album. It has a diverse female cast, vibrant modern choreography and camera work that creates intimacy with the viewer.
Then there's the fact that Haydar is eight months pregnant in the video. About 25 seconds in, the camera zooms out to reveal her full belly.
"It's actually really powerful that there's a pregnant woman in the video in a song that's all about women's bodies," she says. "It was just very important to challenge that narrative and to challenge that story — that not all women's bodies look the same, and women's bodies should not look the same."
Artists like Beyoncé and MIA have brought pregnant bodies into the mainstream, but Haydar says the negative views of pregnancy are still very apparent.
"The fact that a pregnant woman is in a music video was just shocking for a lot of people," she says. "And I found it really disturbing that people were so shocked. Often, people had more to say about me rubbing my belly than about the actual content."
Haydar's lyrics also comment on the notion held, even by some feminists, that the hijab is an oppressive tradition. She raps:
"What that hair look like?
Bet that hair look nice.
Don't that make you sweat?
Don't that feel too tight?
Yo what your hair look like?
Bet your hair look nice.
How long your hair is?
You need to get yo life."
Muslim women who wear the hijab have been increasingly targeted in the U.S. as Islamophobia has risen over the past few years. The number of physical assaults against Muslims in the United States reached Sept. 11-era levels last year, according to the Pew Research Center. The FBI reported 257 incidents of anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2015, a 67 percent increase from the previous year.
As a Muslim woman, breaking into the music industry has been difficult. Haydar says much of the pushback has come from the Muslim community. Some view music as haram, or "not permissible," a term used to describe things that go against religious practice. But Haydar doesn't see it that way.
"You know, I'm not a young person. I'm not this thoughtless person who's just jumping into something. Music being forbidden, I'm not interested in this conversation. Because something that promotes love and light is positive and is permissible. And not only permissible but necessary, especially in the world we live in right now," Haydar says.
She calls her music "resistance music" because it celebrates diversity and calls for women to be "unapologetic about who they are" with lyrics like: "Make a feminist planet / Women haters get banished / Covered up or not, don't ever take us for granted."
Haydar will release an album this year with more songs that focus on love and inclusiveness.
NPR's Noor Wazwaz produced this story for broadcast. Follow her @nfwazwaz.
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