A must-have in a cream kaftan and white kufi cap on the Junos red carpet, Canadian musician and poet Mustafa wore an unusual accessory for the annual awards: an armor-like vest with the word “poet” sewn in large letters on the chest. chest. .
When CBC News’ Eli Glasner asked the 25-year-old if his lyrics were his protection, the singer replied, “Absolutely.”
“Naturally, I always feel like I’m defending my heart, defending myself against all forms of violence — you know, violence against my heart, violence against my community, violence against my faith.”
WATCH | Mustafa tells CBC News that he uses folk music to tell stories about his community:
The singer-songwriter, who is a Muslim, said he believed Islam was in a vulnerable position, with those who practice it being seen and portrayed as perpetrators rather than victims of violence.
“I decided to put it on because it felt good, you know what I mean? I’m from the neighborhood, but I’m also, like, I practice my faith, and all forms of defense and all forms of worship really matter to me.”
Growing up in Toronto’s underserved neighborhood of Regent Park, Mustafa described his debut album, When the smoke risesas “downtown folk music”.
The success of the project resulted in a series of summits. Most recently, Mustafa won alternative album of the year at this weekend’s Junos in Toronto, but it was born out of the artist’s grief after losing several friends to gun violence.
Inspired by Canada’s great singer-storytellers — Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell — he tried to fuse their poetic sense for songwriting with the underexplored storytelling of his community.
“I listened to their ability to tell stories. I just wanted to do it for me, for my community,” Mustafa said.
“The fact that I feel like I’m pitting one reality against another is why I think it’s so important that I draw this intersection, that I continually remind people that we deserve it too.”
As a producer, the Toronto artist has made a name for himself in Canada and beyond, working with internationally successful pop artists like The Weeknd, Camila Cabello and Usher.
But folk music has its heart – and it’s also starting to grow among its friends.
“At first, I think it was a little shocking to them,” he said, as an entourage of close confidants gathered right behind him on the Junos red carpet.
“They were made to feel alienated by selection like this, but, you know, slowly but surely they got to a place where they could appreciate it.”
Wrapping his arm around Mustafa, a friend looked at the camera. He told CBC News the young musician was “one of the greatest to ever do this.”
“He is the hope, he is the voice.”