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Interview: Mo Muse

Posted by Lee Densem

Creativity, community & lockdown in August

Part of a growing tide of people from a migrant background who are now established as musicians in New Zealand, rapper Mo Muse has found a new home in Tāmaki Makaurau, while still calling Mogadishu (Somalia) his 'hometown'. An established member of the Ammo Nation collective, he released The First Generation LP a year ago and with a stack of new music on the way and a performance at The Others Way coming up, it seems like 2020 might not be such a write-off for him after all. 

As a resident of Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland, Mo Muse is living through the middle of a second lockdown in New Zealand's largest city. So instead of meeting face to face, we did what the rest of the world has done and moved it online. With coronavirus being the topic on everybody's minds, he reflected on what the lockdowns have done to his creativity.

"The first lockdown was a massive struggle, just because I felt like everything I had worked so hard for in the beginning of the year all came to a massive halt. That was really disheartening. So, I didn’t actually get a lot of music done during that lockdown period."

Muse says in hindsight, he shouldn’t have "beaten myself up about it too much", despite the expectations on a lot of creators to create during a the pandemic, Working full time as a pharmacist Muse is classed as an 'essential worker' so work didn't change "like it wasn’t a holiday." But with income streams drying up for musicians worldwide he was still grateful to be working. "I know a lot of peers of mine in the music industry were struggling financially, so I was quite privileged to have a stable income during that terrible time."

"The first lockdown was a massive struggle"

After tooling up with some better equipment and the familiarity of what lockdown brings, Muse says he has found the second time around much easier. This could also have something to do with a coincidental quirk of the calendar.

"I don’t know what it is about the month of August man, I just tap into a different energy. The eight month of the year, just the last few years consistently has always been the month where I’ve created the most, which I can never explain. But it is what it is."

Being a solo artist comes with its own advantages and pitfalls. Thinking back to the first lockdown and "not really having the confidence in myself to create and record my own music" must have come hard after working in a lot of different studios leading up to his 2019 debut album. But people find a way to be creative, and Muse says "one thing that I’m blessed with is never putting any pressure on myself. If I’m not feeling it, I just won’t do it."

"I don’t know what it is about the month of August man, I just tap into a different energy"

As we speak, the Christchurch Mosque shooter is back in court for sentencing. Muse released the track 'Friday' not long after the horrific event as part of his grieving process. Reflecting on everything being back in the news again, he says he does not feel any differently about it. And despite not hitting as hard this time Muse still finds it difficult reading the victim statements each day. 

"It’s just very, very telling isn’t it, that this was an attack on the Muslim population of New Zealand, but people don’t really register in their minds, that the victims were every single ethnicity of New Zealand society. One of the victims, Nathan. He was a white New Zealander who was also a Muslim. In his statement he said something quite haunting. He said you killed in my name, and in my race, and all that’s done is made me a little bit stronger in my faith and my belief."

"Of course, it’s galvanised the community. It’s made people a lot closer, it’s made people a lot less alone as well. That’s really the only silver lining I can get out of this."

It's been a year since the release of Mo Muse's debut album 'The First Generation LP' and some of the things we have just been talking about - family, 'home' and a sense of community are also themes in his music. They all hold up, perhaps more-so given the events since its release.

"My story in the First Generation LP isn’t a story that is uncommon, whether it be the migrant community, the black community, the refugee community, the Muslim community. So, a lot of people did take that album quite personally. And I’m really glad they did, because it was an album that was really personal for me at that time and at that moment too."

Muse says his identity "stands at an intersection between being black and being Muslim as well." So much as he was advocating hard for justice to be brought to the mosque shooter, he has the same feelings watching the Black Lives Matter movement from afar and "just losing count man" of the unarmed black people that keep getting killed.

He pauses when asked if he thinks that the conversations around race that are happing today in New Zealand would have been happening even five or ten years ago.

"I’m not too sure about that. I definitely feel more empowered to have these conversations. I feel that a lot of my conditioning was to keep your head down, get on and make something of yourself within New Zealand society. But when something as tragic as what happened last year in Christchurch happens, that all goes out the window because you can be doing every single thing right and still be murdered in your place of worship. You know what I mean. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’d feel as empowered if a tragedy like that didn’t happen. Which is even sadder because you never want to fix the bridge once it’s broken."

"A lot of people are really beginning to reshape their idea of what a New Zealander is and what a New Zealander looks like. That’s been the thing which has challenged people the most, and I’m really glad."

"people are really beginning to reshape their idea of what a New Zealander looks like. That’s been the thing which has challenged people the most"

Apart from his solo work, this year Muse has also linked up with some of his peers, using their shared experiences as an organic way to start making music together. Lining up alongside Raiza Biza, JessB, Blaze The Emperor & Abdul Kay, he says by the time they made 'Flying' "it was clear that we really wanted to make more music together, so we became BLKCITY." 

As well as peers, they have all become close friends. Muse says that it is a refreshing change from working alone. "There are no egos, there is no expectation placed on anyone just because they’ve done this or that. Everyone comes to the table as their own person with their own ideas, and that’s why the music is so good. We try to make it as natural as possible; we just go where the energy is, and that’s it." 

It seems that energy will lead to a lot more from BLKCITY in the future. Muse promises more singles, and a "possible project on the horizon." He also says they hope to get the group together to perform live once the "whole Covid thing decides to behave."

"We try to make it as natural as possible; we just go where the energy is, and that’s it"

Given that it was approaching the end of August - Muse's golden month of Creativity - it seemed only right to ask what might be on the way. "I’m expecting to drop three singles on September 11. Kind of unheard of, but I haven’t dropped solo music proper in nearly a year, so I really owe it to fans of old and new." 

All three sound completely different, hence the decision to drop all three at once. Muse believes it will show his diversity and where his sound is heading which is "very experimental" now. 

"This is some of the best music I’ve ever written, quality wise. Sonically as well. I’m so excited for people to hear it." We will have to wait a week or so to see who he is referring to, but he says it was "really dope to get some of the people on the features as well."

And where will this burst of creativity end up? Perhaps another album? "To be honest man, with the momentum at the moment I might just drop a project before the end of the year. At the moment it is a collection of songs, I don’t really know what it’s going to be. It’s either going to be an EP or mixtape I reckon."

Muse is also booked in to play his debut set at The Others Way 2020 festival on Auckland's K Rd on September 11th. While Covid has thrown a spanner in the works, he hopes it will go ahead, because "the line-up just speaks for itself. Hip-hop wise, I know JessB and Diggy Dupe are there. It should be dope."

Stay up to date with all the news from The Others Way 2020 and get the last remaining tickets from Flying Out.​