Arts, Culture & Media

The US troops might have left Iraq but this Iraqi Canadian artist says the pain remains

Yassin Alsalman considers the word hip-hop an acronym. For him, it stands for "Highly Intelligent People Hover Over Politics."

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And being a hip-hop artist, he has "hovered over politics."

Alsalman was born in Dubai to Iraqi parents. He was raised in the United Arab Emirates and in Canada.

"The ability to live in both the East and the West ... it allowed me to see the world in a different way and be a lot more accepting of cultural differences," he says.

As the US invasion of Iraq began, Alsalman watched the news and read about the devastation his country was undergoing. Relatives described life in a war zone.

So not surprisingly, politics started to seep into his music.

"It wasn't really a choice for me," he says, "being where I’m from and what I’ve experienced in my life and seeing the injustices that are happening in the world, it just sort of seeps into my work and the narrative of my life."

He the narrative of his life has always had some tie to war.

"We’ve seen war be projected on our motherland for over three decades now — since I was a baby,” he says. “The feeling never changed, it just became more and more clear to us that these patterns of violence that exist are bigger than just two political figures disagreeing with each other.”

Some of Alsalman's relatives finally managed to leave Iraq and that meant he could spend some time with them.

But the more time he spent with them, the more he realized how traumatized they were from the war. He recalls watching television with one of his cousins, who was 16 at the time.

"One of the most poignant experiences I had was watching television with him and seeing his reaction to gun shots and bombs on TV," he says. "He would cover his ears or leave the room. He just wasn’t comfortable."

His cousin made a new life for himself in the US and is now a personal chef in New York. "He made it," Alsalman says. Still, he adds that there are "many other kids back in Iraq who aren’t able to leave."

Alsalman is well aware of the threat posed by groups like ISIS, but he doesn’t want to focus on them. For him, the children of Iraq should be the main focus.

That's why, today, he raises money to help sick Iraqi children get the medical attention they need. He also wants to bring hope to these children through his music.

“Like they say: 'each one, reach one, teach one and tweet one,'" he says.