Music inhabits a peculiar space that allows it the ability to traverse and negotiate the multiple identities people are often grappling with and between. For female Muslim rappers in the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., this space allows for maneuvers between the simultaneous dimensions of their reality Their gender, religion, and ethnicities are constantly politicized, too often for them rather than by them, and by claiming this space that music—specifically hip-hop—provides, Muslim women can address on their terms the complex, contradictory, and multifaceted identities they must constantly tread.
In 2007, the controversy-plagued Norwegian-born singer Deeyah (popularly known as the “Muslim Madonna”) formed Sisterhood, a collective of female Muslim MCs primarily from the U.K. Their first project, an online “mixtape” released in 2008, generated a wide variety of responses from Muslims, male and female. Both the music and the overwhelming response serve as a lens through which one can better understand the many layers that intertwine and conflict in the Muslim sense of self and demonstrate the way music allows a traversal and prioritization of the many identities with which these performers grapple. Furthermore, doing so within the framework of hip-hop—a traditionally male-dominated genre rooted in African-American marginality—generates a discourse that embodies the unique and wholly complex space in which these identities operate.
Professor Sylvia Alajaji received her PhD in musicology from the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. She specializes in the music of the Middle East and is particularly interested in the intersections of music, popular culture, and politics in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and in the Armenian diaspora in Lebanon. She recently returned from a summer of research in Palestine, where she examined the tensions between tradition and modernity that emerge in the musical activities at various refugee camps in the West Bank. She is currently an assistant professor of music at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.