Als ich vor wenigen Tagen in den Hamburger Nochtspeicher komme, ist mein Interviewpartner noch nicht da. Also packe ich meine Sachen aus, richte mich ein, tue beschäftigt. Zum Glück kommen nur ein paar Minuten später Brother Ali und sein DJ in den Club, werfen einen Blick auf die Bühne inkl. DJ-Pult, welches bereits vom Ton-Techniker verkabelt wurde, und entdecken schließlich mich. Ich stelle mich vor und ohne Zeit zu verlieren begleitet mich Brother Ali in den Backstageraum, wo auch sogleich unser Gespräch stattfinden soll.
So schnell habe ich wohl selten mit einem Interview begonnen. In Gedanken gehe ich noch einmal alle relevanten Punkte durch: Brother Alis letztes Album „All The Beauty In This Whole Life“ ist dieses Jahr auf Rhymesayers erschienen, alle Beats kommen von Ant (der produzierenden Hälfte von Atmosphere), mit 15 Jahren ist Ali zum Islam konvertiert und geboren wurde der Rapper mit Albinismus. So weit so gut, los geht’s!
Your album is titled „All The Beauty In This Whole Life”. Where do you see beauty?
Hm. Well, I think if you look for beauty, you will find beauty to no end. And if you look for ugliness, you find that as well. Beauty is the outward manifestation of virtue. Inner beauty is virtue in a person. And outward beauty is the outward expression of that. And so, the reason why I focus on beauty on the album is because beauty communicates from the heart. The heart is what knows beauty.
Modern society tells us everything is in the mind, it’s all the psyche, it’s all the brain. And so they say, the brain can think anything is beautiful or can think anything is ugly, but the heart knows better than that! The heart knows, what beauty is. And the heart knows, what ugliness is. Those are timeless, universal things. Everybody knows, that a sun rising and a sunsetting is beautiful. Everybody knows babies are beautiful. Everybody knows, natural things are beautiful. So, when we deal with beauty, it communicates a truth, that you can’t always express with words. But it also goes around what we think, to speak directly to the heart. I found a lot of beauty in people, good virtues people. I think there is a lot of people – but you have to look for it!
Why do you think did so many people forget about this beauty and don’t care about what their hearts are saying? There is so much hate going on right now, wherever you look. Where do you think does this hate come from?
I think, the people, who are in control, the people, that we talk about power: They have material power, they control the material world, the physical world. And they control even the world of mind, of thoughts. But they can’t control the heart. So, what they do is structure society. And everything, that they control, takes people away from the heart and takes people to the physical world. And if it’s not physical or material, they are talking about thoughts and concepts and philosophies and ideologies and things like that.
And they take people away from the heart, because the people in power can’t control the hearts. They want to take all the emphasis out of that. Because if the people live through their hearts, then we would never accept the things that they are doing. And we would never become willing participance in it. Even if they have the weapons to kill us with, we wouldn’t so easily start participating and be happy about participating. So, they have to keep us as much as possible out of the heart and in the material world. And if we ever go to the world of meaning – it’s only the brain.
I understand what you are saying and maybe I am part of the problem. So how can I come back to the right path?
We all have to struggle with this. I think that it’s really important, that the entire modern world has been shaped by this ideology. And so, it’s good to have connections with premodern ways of understanding life. And it doesn’t mean that we pretend, that the modern world never happened – we have to live in this time. And we have to be relevant and we have to navigate. But to have conversation and to be actively relating to premodern ways to living live and premodern ideas of life is really important. All of the premodern, spiritual traditions, wisdom traditions: they all have something to say for us. Part of
maternity is, that we think we are smarter than the people before us. We think we are better than them. We are the first people who think that! All over the world, people knew, their parents were better than them, their grandparents were better than them. Their ancestors were the best. We are the only people who think, that they are smarter, because we know how to use an iPhone and the technology.
But what are we doing with the technology? Science and technology just helps human beings to do what they are desire to do in a bigger scale and more easily. So, it still gets back to „what do we want to do”? Because science is just a tool. Science isn’t a virtue in itself – it’s just a tool. So, what are we using it for? We kill people, we are destroying the planet, we are breaking people’s family ties, we are breaking people’s abilities to be together, we are breaking people’s abilities to be intimate with each other – that’s what we use technology for. That’s not the technology’s fault. But it still gets back to „what do we want?” And in order for us to deal with „how do I want the right things?” That’s a spiritual question, that we need spiritual guidance with. What doesn’t mean, that someone has to except a belief, that their heart doesn’t recognize as truth. But that can’t only be done with the brain and that can’t just be done with the material world.
Having connection with those spiritual traditions, wisdom traditions, but then also having elders. I think it’s really important we are having elders, that we submit to and that we trust. Not everybody is worthy of that trust, but the people who are: we have to submit to them. Because they know, we don’t know. They have connections to things, that were before this time. And then, they also know something about being our age and what it feels like. They can see us in ways, we can’t see ourselves. I think those are the two best steps.
You think this is something you can learn from the Islam? You turned to Islam when you were 15.
Yes. And that’s the real reason why the people in power fear us now. It’s not because of violence – because they love violence. They do more violence than anybody. And any time somebody does terrorism – and the real Muslims hate terrorism – the people in power use the fear in the common people to get more power. So, they love violence! They don’t hate Islam because of
violence, they hate Islam because the Muslims still believe in their religion. We are not just culturally Muslims, we believe in it. And I love Christians and I love Jews, and I know there are Christians and Jews, who really believe their religions, but as societies they don’t. People are culturally Christians, so they have Christmas and things like that. But as a society, they are moving away from believing it. And the same thing with the Jewish community. More and more people are culturally Jewish, and they are leaving the actual religious side of being Jewish.
The Muslims still believe in their religion, even though they don’t know it. Even though most of the Muslims, we don’t know our religion, but we still believe it. We still think we have the right to determine what’s true, and what our priorities should be, that the modern world and the people in power can’t control. And also, we are fearless. It makes you so, that you don’t fear being in poverty, you don’t fear being in prison, you don’t fear dying. Although you don’t want to die. The people who do terrorism and things like that: that’s a very distorted, twisted idea of Islam. That really was created by the modern world though. The British and the US, they bagged and they put their money and power and influence behind a certain group in Saudi Arabia, the
Wahhabis and the Saudi family, so that they would become the leaders of the Muslim world. And they overthrew the Ottoman empire, which was Sufi Islam. The Islam of Poetry and Rumi and they also were great warriors.
We do believe, that we have to fight sometimes. But we never fight for ourselves and we are never the aggressors and we never fight people physically, because they offend us. That’s not what we do. The prophet Muhammad was brutalized and starved and strangled and insulted all the time and he always met that with kindness. We never fight for that reason. But when there are people brutalizing innocent people, we fight to protect them. That’s what real Jihad is. It’s the fight to protect innocent people. The British and the US basically chose, who would gonna be in control of the holiest places in the Muslim world, and also, who is going to control the oil.
I guess that is what it was all about.
Yes, and they put people in charge of the Muslim world, that are actually destroying the Islamic tradition and saying you don’t have to listen to teachers anymore, you don’t have to respect your elders, you don’t have to respect the saints and the great spiritual traditions in Islam. And the intellectual tradition. You just follow the outward rules, and this created nightmares. So, when people look in the news and see horrible things in the name of Islam, they are right to hate that.
And the real Muslims, we hate that more than anybody. And those people kill more Muslims than anybody else. They mostly kill Muslims. They kill some Westerners and that’s horrific, it’s terrible. And the prophet Muhammad talked about those people, he said, the people, who do violence against innocent people in the name of his community, he said, those people are the dogs of hell. Those groups have a hitlist of Muslims they want to kill, and my teachers are on their list. The common people don’t know about Islam. That’s unfortunate and I don’t judge them for that. If all I saw, there is a great Muslim theologian thinker named Imam al-Ghazālī. And he said, if people only hear a distorted version of Islam and the reject that, they are not disbelievers. They are actually closer to being believers than they are to disbelievers. Because they reject the fake Islam just like we reject the fake Islam.
We had elections a couple of weeks ago and I saw a lot of stuff about Islam and why Refugees are not welcome in Germany. How would you describe, what the Islam really stands for to those people who think the Islam was just about terrorism?
You have to reach those people through their hearts, because there is a propaganda campaign. They have undergone years of propaganda and their own lives are very difficult. They are people, who feel like the modern world
failed them. And they are right! They feel like their lives are shallow and empty – and they are. You can’t argue with them and you can’t convince them with arguing. That’s why I made an album about beauty, because you have to reach them through their heart. First of all, you have to genuinely care about them and want them to heal and want good for them. What I do with people like that: I feed them. You know what I mean [laughs]? And I do nice things for them. And when they talk about those things, I just shift away from those things.
They have undergone a campaign of propaganda, that is really profound. I don’t have anything, that is as strong as that from brain to brain or from mouth to mouth. But from heart to heart – that’s how you touch people. We can’t reach anybody, and we can’t convince anybody. I believe we can’t convince anybody, the most high is the one who that guides people or misguides people or heals people or doesn’t heal people. But the only thing to do, is to show up and try to love people and try to give people the sweetness their heart actually desires. That is what’s actually missing: the sweetness and goodness. The nutrients of the hearts.
You make HipHop for more than 15 years now. Why do you still choose rap as an artform to speak to people?
I don’t know [laughs]! Nah, it’s because it’s the only thing I know how to do, that people respond to. And I still love doing it. I still love holding a mic and rapping in.
Your album is fully produced by Ant. What do you appreciate about Ant’s beats? I mean, you got so many songs together…
First, we are really friends. We are like brothers and we know each other really intimately well. He makes music that captivates what’s going on in my heart. Our hearts are connected. The music, that he makes and the songs, that I write for them, they connect in the same way as our hearts do.
Do you know Rumi? He is a famous Muslim poet and he wrote love poetry. He talks about wine and he talks about lovers. And you can read it like that, but when he talks about wine, he talks about being drunk with the love of divine. He never wrote his poetry. He would get in these ecstatic states and then he would start saying verses and there was somebody, Husam al-Din Chalabi, who wrote it down. They thought, that all he did was write that stuff. But they realized, Rumi would only get in that state, when he was with Husam al-Din Chalabi. That’s what Ant is. I only really get in the state, where I can write those kind of songs, when I’m with him.
One of my favorite songs from the album is “Pray For Me”. Maybe you can say something about it and how you felt, when you wrote it.
That song talks about the way I was basically taught by the black-American tradition how to navigate life. Because of I am an albino, I look different … There was a woman, who taught me the nuances of identity and self-love using hair. Because my mom dyed my hair to look like a normal kid. It made me depressed, because the people, that were bad to me – I was trying to look more like them. And it almost made it felt like they are right for the way, they are treating me. That was my mom’s approach. But there was a black woman, that I knew, that told me, that Elvis Presley had the pompadour hair style because he was trying to look like Muddy Waters, the famous Blues musician.
Muddy Waters had his hair permed and processed, because he used to have curly hair in a white supremist culture, with white standards of beauty. But there was this ‘black is beautiful’ movement, where people stopped doing all this to their hair. They grew natural hair, afros and locks and things like that. She said, that is the only way. You have to love yourself. You have to be, who you are, and you have to be comfortable with yourself – otherwise, nobody will ever be comfortable with you. And that is just a small picture to show, how that tradition really thaught me how to navigate in live.
Do you wish, you would have had a different childhood?
No. No, I wouldn’t trade anything. You just can’t do that. That’s one of the aspects of Islam but also all the spiritual traditions. We are living the best possible life for us. And that doesn’t mean, that there are no wrong things. So, both my own personal live and also the world we live in. That’s the world I am supposed to live in. The things, that are bad in my life or in the world, are the perfect test for me, the perfect challenge. And I am supposed to respond to those things in the best way that I can. So, we try our best to respond. But I wouldn’t want to be anything different than what I am.
Über die vereinbarte Dauer des Gespräches sind wir nun schon drüber. Ich bin tief beeindruckt und werde noch einige Tage über dieses Gespräch nachdenken. Ein gewöhnliches Interview war das auf keinen Fall. Viel eher eine Unterrichtsstunde bei jemanden, der schon etwas mehr als man selbst erlebt hat. Was hat Brother Ali gesagt? „Submit to your elders“.