Rapper, poet and lyrical powerhouse, Omar Musa took some time out of the return season of his sold-out one-man show Since Ali Died, to share his experiences thus far with this deeply personal and riotously political production. Inspired by the death of his personal hero, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, Musa dives into a furious torrent of poetry, story and song to confront heartbreak, human connection and the dark realities of growing up as a brown-skinned Australian/Asian Muslim in Queanbeyan.
Where did the impetus come from to transform your album “Since Ali Died” into a stage play?
Griffin Theatre approached me to make a show for Batch Festival, so I thought I’d try to take the loose narrative threads of my rap album “Since Ali Died” (lost love, friendship, politics, Muhammad Ali my childhood hero) and build poems and stories around them to create something brand new. Director Anthea Williams was instrumental in helping me do that. It was one of the most intense creative periods of my life. We had never met each other before, but dove in the deep end and brought it all together into something (sort of) resembling a one man play in about two weeks.
Have the enjoyed the journey in discovering your form of theatre?
I’ve really enjoyed it! I’ve definitely finding my feet with it, especially how to move around the space, but I’m excited at the possibilities. I like how ephemeral it is. There’s something really cool about the snowflake-like nature of each performance — you aim for consistency, but each show is unique in its own subtle way.
As a “writer, rhymer, rapscallion” – what is your relationship to language and how has it evolved?
Hm, it’s hard to say. I’ll answer this way: there are dangers in turning your passion into a profession. There have definitely been times I’ve lost the love for writing. It can be hard to keep that unadulterated joy of indulging in language playfully and for the sake of it, especially if you start to take yourself too seriously. I try to remind myself to keep that playfulness, even if discussing super dark stuff. I don’t know if this sounds naff, but it does sometimes feel like the further I try to experiment, the less I know.
What are some techniques that you have used to evolve as an artist?
I don’t know about specific techniques, but I constantly challenge myself to experiment with form, whether it be moving from rap into spoken word, then into fiction, then into theatre, or trying to combine these things into some weird, new thing. I also challenge myself to dwell in uncomfortable spaces and to confront the darkness of the world and the darkness of myself. Scary! I THINK this attitude has kept me on my toes and allowed me to evolve, but there are definitely times I wonder if it goes too far and it becomes painful to the point of being crippling.
What are some difficulties that you have faced when experimenting with form (theatre, music, poetry)?
Self-doubt is the biggest one. But that’s healthy, sometimes – as long as you don’t let it freeze you in your tracks, it can keep you on your toes!
What advice would you give to other artists?
Read heaps. Be willing to make mistakes. It’s okay to feel lost.