Posted by on September 23, 2010 in Blog
Stephan Said knows how to turn lemons into lemonade. An Iraqi-American and self-described Southerner, Said had grown up torn between the country he was raised in and loves and its policy towards his ancestral home of Iraq. This conflict turned out to be the fuel for his creative endeavors.
“I don’t think I can separate anything I do from being an Arab- and Iraqi-American,” says Said. “I had a need to look for means to join cultures and create love to deal with my own conflict.” That conflict, Said says, “inspired me as an artist my whole life to focus all my energy on creating peace…in part because of the reality of what’s going on in Iraq.”
That inspiration has culminated in difrent, a “global broadcasting platform” that gives up-and-coming artists and activists a venue to share music devoted to social change. Using the internet, digital media, and social networking, Said wants to bridge the gaps not only between people of different cultures and faiths; he wants to do so through all genres and mediums. “I wanted to get the word out not just to Iraqis or just to a Hip-Hop audience or a Folk audience but to everyone.” For Said, difrent is not merely about bring people together and educating them, but actively engaging them in the process of music-making and social change. When speaking about an event held with students, Said described the process of sharing songs with them: “I wanted them to listen to the lyrics and respond to them: what do they mean? Why? What do they say about globalization? And then to respond in their own way, to make their own songs.” Difrent has also asked young people to upload their own videos to its Youtube channel as a part of its “Take a Stand” global youth project. And he’s not spreading the word alone. Difrent has partnered with Model UN and on September 19, he performed his new single, “Take a Stand” at the Millennium Development Goals Awards Gala. “This has potential to spread all over the world.”
When asked whether difrent is especially vital today in light of rising hostility towards Arab-Americans and American Muslims post-9/11, Said agrees that the work is timely, but not a reaction to controversies such as the Islamic center in New York. “This was a dream of mine before 9/11, but the technology didn’t exist yet.” Besides, Said says, the need for social change goes beyond the Middle East, and that people all over the world “are looking for unity.” Still, Said realizes the importance of putting an Arab American face to the idea of positive social change, and he is willing to be that face. This embracement of heritage could very well be seen as a coming out for Said – until difrent:, his new album, he had been releasing music under his mother’s maiden name, Smith, after record executives told him he would never be successful in recording with an Arabic name. Now Said acknowledges that “it’s necessary that a positive Arab American voice” be heard “This is our moment.”
Said's message is resonating with fellow New Yorkers and he recently appeared on NBC's New York Nightly News with Chuck Scarborough to talk about his work.
For more information about difrent and its initiatives, or to learn about the “Take a Stand” video collaboration, visit difrent.org.