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Sarbast: An Arab-speaking rapper in Athens

 by Varvara Zaraveli     |    November 11, 2017

The first time I heard Sarbast rapping in Arabic I was impressed by his passion and energy. Hip hop is not my favorite kind of music. I didn’t understand any of the words, but was won over by his vitality. I was curious to learn more about the Arab-speaking rapper, so I met him one afternoon in Athens and he talked to me about his life and his great passion, music.

Sarbast is Kurdish and is from Syria. He’s been living in Greece for the past ten years, along with his family. He works as an interpreter at an NGO. As a child in Syria, he loved to sing – with his friends, at parties, weddings, etc. At the time, however he had not yet discovered hip hop. When he was 17 years old he decided to come to Greece and live with his sisters, who were already living in Athens. It was a long and difficult trip for a minor traveling alone. His mother accompanied him on the journey to the Syrian-Turkish border. Then he continued on his own – it was a great adventure.

I can remember that all I wanted was to make it across, to Samos. When I got into the boat, I was terrified and I fainted. When I came to, we had already reached Samos.

I ask him about his first impressions of Greece from those early days.

I liked Greece. I still like it. It’s different, but beautiful. I wanted to learn the language, to be able to talk to people, to learn more about Athens. For the first two years I lived with my family and this helped me to adjust to life here. Now, ten years later, Greece is my home: I work here, I travel, I have friends and of course I keep singing.

And how did you get involved in hip hop?

One day I was watching MTV in Arabic and I saw a hip hop show. I was impressed. It was like discovering a new world. So I started to record myself on my cell phone and create small productions. I spent one whole night at an internet cafe searching online for songs, music, when I accidentally found a folder filled with songs. Over 200 songs! I copied them and that’s how I slowly began. I started experimenting with rap at home initially. By myself. I started writing lyrics.

And what are your songs about?

Unlike others, I do not write about love stories. My songs are about social issues, my personal experiences. I draw from things that have happened to me. In this way, I express my feelings and pass on the messages I want to include

But why do you sing only in Arabic, have you tried in Greek?

Because in Arabic I can better express my thoughts and feelings. I can be more real in Arabic. I have also tried to sing in Greek. I have even written some songs in Greek. But I don’t feel that comfortable. I don’t feel that I possess the Greek language 100%, unlike the Arabic language. Also, in Greek it takes more time to think and write.

How did you start doing shows?

I was at a live show and I happened to meet a girl from Kenya. She heard me singing and encouraged me to continue and go to other events as well. So that’s how I began singing at various live events, with friends. Every time I’m about to go on stage I feel nervous, but when I’m up there I forget everything. The scene is my space, my natural environment, and music gives me energy. Music is my passion.

How does the audience respond to you?

Very positive I would say. Although I have no particular relationship with the Greek hip hop community, I try to participate in as many events as I can, for example the Antiracist Festival. Also, I upload my tracks to my YouTube channel. With live audiences, although they don’t understand Arabic, they’re usually pleasantly surprised and excited – because it’s something different. Many times when I come off the stage, they come to talk to me and their comments are positive.

What is “life” to you, Sarbast?

Art, he answers immediately.

Art is what keeps me alive. Apart from music, which is my great love, I have begun to get to know and to love theater and acting.

So will you become an actor in the future?

He answers with a smile: I don’t know. We’ll see.

Besides being a very interesting guy, Sarbast is also full of positive energy and optimism. If you want to listen to his tracks, all you have to do is visit his channel and take a look.

Kudos

Written by Varvara Zaraveli 
Photographs by Nadir Noori

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