DIASPORA: Meer makes waves for Arab women in rap music

Culture, Interview, Music

Rapper Meer is a young woman living in Australasia. Having just moved to Sydney from Auckland to be with the love of her life she says she appreciates a man who respects a woman going after her potential. “I want to make a mark as an Arab woman – I want people to know what an Arab is. I want Middle Eastern to be a part of the selection when you choose where you’re from,” she says.

Born in Dubai, she came to New Zealand when she was five years old. Having always used writing as an important outlet, especially when it comes to her mental health and positive well being, she says eventually making a rap song became an obvious choice. “The first time I went up on that stage I couldn’t explain it, it was something magical, that feeling I got, I couldn’t get anywhere else and I was addicted.”

Although her lyrical content can get quite heavy theme-wise she says “I want people to scream my name on that stage I want people to know my lyrics, I  want to touch people in ways that they have never..that sounds weird…I want to affect people emotionally through my music, in ways they’ve never been before.”

‘You messing with a bad bitch’ goes the hook of her most recent video release Pomegranate. But, she says “I’m not really an intense person – I’m such a kid – the person you see on stage is someone who feels powerful and wants to prove it but the person I am when I get off stage is powerful and I don’t have to prove it. Even though there’s a lot of intense content, people might think it’s too much.. Do you think?”

I tell her I think women have to speak their truth no matter how raw it is. I tell her I remember when the rapper Angel Haze came out on track about being raped and, even as a woman, how I found that to be forward. Not because I didn’t want to hear it (it opened up a side to her and showed an extra facet of her personality) but because I wasn’t used to hearing it in a public setting and definitely not on a rap track presented in the first person.

Then she lets me know she too was raped, in Jordan when she was 13, and that it’s something she is willing to share. “A random as man at a new years house party at a friend’s. It was about 1am… I think my mum wanted to pick me up but I didn’t wanna tell her where I was so I gave her a different address that I had to walk to and on my walk there, the place in Jordan where I was living at was desert road, a shitty area.. and a man, just gross as, street man…and yeah I was walking alone and it was dark.. A man approached me and pushed me onto a wall and pulled out a knife and said if I move that means he’ll kill me and so I didn’t move – I just stood there and yeah he raped me”.

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At 28 Meer’s rap voice is strong, prominent, bold. When she opens her front door I’m surprised, she’s about 5ft with doe eyes, softly spoken, petite. In May this year she dropped a music video for her song ‘Rotten’, the hook goes “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok…I keep telling myself it’s ok, it’s ok, but it’s not.” Now, the song has a deeper meaning to me and her personal focus on positive mental health and sharing stories about mental health focuses the picture I have of her further, sharpens it in a way.

Attitude is the world’s largest online collection of documentaries telling real stories of people living with disability. They’ve recently released a web series called Glimpse looking at seven Kiwi creatives, it featured Meer and other public figures like New Zealand’s Next Top Model winner Danielle Hayes who also discusses escaping a near rape attack in France. It focuses on sharing and spreading knowledge that mental health is something many people live with and only requires more understanding and patience from humanity in general, rather than judgment and a fast paced, ‘get over it’ type attitude.

‘Cleaning Out My Closet’ rapped over the classic Eminem beat is the song where Angel Haze addressed her own rape. She told Alicia Menendez for Fusion TV “I did actually have high hopes for that song in regards to helping people understand the processes and the trauma that rape victims do go through you know like in America in particular…We’re so desensitized to that. You have people who rally against rape and then you have people who say ‘that’s not real rape’ so it’s baffling to me”.

“To put it out there so blatantly what I went through and to make people feel disgusted when they listen to the song, it’s what you’re supposed to feel, it’s what I want you to feel – it’s how I want you to think of it like ..think about if you had a daughter. How would you feel if your daughter told you these things? And that changed a lot of people’s minds.. I want people who’ve gone through it to have someone feel sympathetic towards their processes. [At the moment] it’s always like get over it, it happened or whatever but I think that should change.”

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Two years ago Meer met a psychologist that she clicked with well. She introduced her to the te whare tapa whā concept of four pillars in a house – a concept based in Te Ao Māori where each pillar represents a part of what every human needs to function –  so if one pillar is not in tact, you, as the vessel are also not in tact.

“You are your house so four sides and if they all collapses then you collapse but each of the four sides represent your physical well being, your spiritual well being, your thoughts and feelings and then your relationships so they each have a special thing,” says Meer.

Growing up in New Zealand as an Arab Muslim she explains “Mental health it just didn’t even exist especially with my family we’re just taught to suck it up and just keep going and there’s nothing wrong with you”.

“My mum believes it now. There was a time when I was going through it, and I showed her this video on YouTube that talks about mental health in Arabic and I was like I’m going to show her this video and then I’m going to tell her about my rape stories and I’m going to see how it goes. So I drove back home and I showed her the YouTube video. Afterwards everything just came out of my mouth – I was about 26 then and I just came out to her with everything. She hugged me and just felt completely oblivious she was shocked she couldn’t believe it.” 

“In herself she thought like am I bad mother? Is this why …I don’t know.. kinda thing so all of that went through her mind. I took her to a therapist session with me and she explained a lot to her.”

Although her mum still doesn’t know she’s pursuing a rap career Meer says eventually she’ll sit her down and explain that it’s a huge part of who she is as a young woman and that she needs to do it. For now it’s like living a double life:

MEER: Yeah well my mum recently found out again that I was rapping. Two years ago she found out and she just went crazy. First of the fact that I was hiding something from her and second because she thought that what I was doing was ‘haram’ which means bad and against the religion. All she was imagining was me on a stage in a bar with drunk dudes.

SERUM:  I used to watch my friends that had to do that growing up in New Zealand and always thought that it was such a skill. Living a double life like that.

MEER: Yeah man, it is a skill haha you wanna lie, come to me. It’s like.. yeah I’ve got to otherwise if I never did I would have not been this person that I am right now, that I’m so proud to be. I would be someone who was afraid of speaking their mind I would have just kept everything in and let things slide and say ‘it’s ok’. I would have never had a voice and I feel like doing all the stuff that I did although it wasn’t really terrible – it was so I could find my own voice ya know. She says living two lives was something she had to do in order to follow her heart but still, maintain a vital connection with her mum. “I love my mum. She’s a beautiful person – like she is the most beautiful, giving person you’ll ever meet in your life.”

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SERUM: Yeah girls need their mums aye.
MEER: Especially women of colour not just women of colour but non-binary, trans, anyone – like it’s hard man – it’s hard not to have your mum’s love. You can’t get that from anywhere else.

SERUM: With you being 28, there would have been a time in NZ for you when mental health wasn’t a very open thing hey?

MEER: No hell no… but it also got to a point where I stopped seeing my family as zombies. My mother, brother, I started seeing them – it’s so weird but just like people, like me. It’s so buzzy when you realise that, like you wake up one morning like ‘Oh shit mum is not just a mother’ like she’s a human who fucked up and so have I, so does everyone else. [I told myself] who are you to hold that grudge – you’re the same you came from the same thing – so who are you to judge and hold that grudge and try to change them? You have to just accept them the way they are. Mum said to me when I opened up to her ‘I always saw that stuff but I was always taught to keep quiet’ and that was her upbringing. She was never allowed to go to her friend’s house, no way. Unless her dad was with her, picked her up and stayed there and then takes her home after – she was never allowed to do any of that. Her upbringing was school and then back home – then you do the chores, that was her upbringing. In comparison to how she’s raising me here, in her mind it’s a lot of freedom.

SERUM: So hard work has paid off?

MEER: Fuck yeah the last three years has been such hard internal work like you don’t see it, you only see on Instagram and social media, you see me walking around and everything but in my mind there’s so much work going on you know when I’m going out I’m doing my mental work, when I’m even here – sitting with you I’m doing my mental work. You always have to be constantly aware and te whare tapa whā is something that I have been following and it’s helping me.

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Meer has a new single coming out November 2nd.

Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Check out her Bandcamp HERE.

 

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