Amer Altaher- One of the founding fathers of the Amman rap scene!

Amman’s local music scene has been growing a lot in the past few years. One of the founding fathers of the Amman rap scene is hip hop artist and spoken word poet Amer Altaher.  Currently an MIS student in his senior year at Amman AlAhliyyah University, he moved to Amman in 2006 from Saudi Arabia and launching the hip-movement that same year when he first began performing. Altaher recently released his first album “Zawyeh 360”.

Amer recollects how it all began, “I started writing at a very young age, probably around 14. I started writing poetry and entering competitions at school, after that I started writing lyrics. I first got interested in rap when I started listening to old school rap such as Snoop Dogg and Biggie. Even though their music had no real connection to my life, I felt that they were able to deliver their message through this art and I wanted to do the same.”

I wondered what the difference was between spoken word poetry and rap, and Amer explained that rap is poetry in a way but the difference is in the use of music, where rap relies on a beat but spoken word stands on its own. He also added that spoken word tends to be much more emotional.

“I only write in Arabic” Amer states, saying that there are big distinctions between rap in Arabic and rap in other languages. When it comes to subject matter, Arabic rap is more about war, politics, social issues and personal issues as well, unlike most western rappers who tend to address matters such as gangster life. “The Arabic message is bigger,” he says, and that’s why it has to be delivered in the same language.

According to Amer, rapping in Arabic gives him the advantage of choosing from an endless supply of words. He also believes that as an Arab he would be lying to himself and to everyone around him if he uses any other language to deliver his message “it would be like deceiving yourself.”

In terms of music however, (in relation to differences between Arabic and Western rap), Amer says, “We usually incorporate Arabic instruments to reflect our background.”

When asked about why so many Arabs do not rely on Arabic to communicate, he responded by saying that perhaps many people have not been raised to speak the language and so they can’t be blamed, however those who willingly choose to communicate in English in order to sound “classier”, those are the ones who should seriously reconsider their language use.

Speaking of class, “I had begun noticing the great differences between classes since I was a kid visiting Amman.” He recalls beginning to understand social issues as he was growing up. “There was this amazing contrast between the people in Saudi who seldom worried about money and people in Amman whose whole lives revolved around securing bread for their families.”

Amer lists his influences to be scenes, small gestures from people, politicians (although he adds that he doesn’t completely agree with everything these politicians might have done) such as Jamal Abdul Nasser, Yasser Arafat, and activist Leila Khaled. As for musicians who have influenced him, he mentions Majda al Roumi, and the Rahbani brothers.  Saying that listening to underground hip -hop helped him develop his style, where groups such as Immortal Technique, Jedi Mind tricks, and Terminology have also been influential to him. When questioned about inspiration, Amer responded that he gets his inspiration out of streets, “all streets have stories to tell.” but it’s in the more common streets, he says, where lots of potential material is found.

When it comes to literature and poetry however, Amer’s list of favorite writers include:  Ghaida Darwish, Mahmoud Darwish, Ghassan Kanfani, and Gibran Khalil Gibran. Due to some of his more politically natured tracks, I asked him how his work is affected by the political instabilities in the region, to which Amer replied by saying that his work is a reflection of reality, rather than just political unrest. “I know what to look for, however I don’t belong to any political parties I simply say my own opinions. Unfortunately we’re used to forgetting our tragedies as Arabs. I believe that just because we have ongoing tragedy we should acknowledge the fact that these things are occurring. I say enough lying to ourselves, enough pretending that nothing’s wrong.”

Nevertheless, Amer believes that political rap can make a change. “I’m not a pure political artist, but rap can definitely change a mindset. Of course I’ve had people disagree with my opinions; but well, to each his own.”

When it comes down to technicalities, Amer describes his writing process saying, “Sometimes there’s a certain time for writing at night and sometimes you come up with a random line that you might scribble in a note or type on your phone that might evolve into something. I edit a lot, but it depends on the track; some tracks could be ready in half an hour and other might take a month. Depends if I’m happy with it or not.  Usually I create the beat first though. Sometimes I make my own beat and at other times a friend of mine or collaboration might happen with DJs from other countries. Past collaborations have taken place with groups such as Fareeq el Atrash from Lebanon and DanDrill from Sweden”

When asked whether he considers music to be his job or hobby, Amer’s reply was: “I believe that whenever you consider your talent to be your job you lose it.  It might be an extra source of income for me but it’s not my job. I might have to work in a company at some point to make a living.” Nevertheless, he concludes by saying that he will never stop doing what he does, no matter how difficult things get. So never fear, much more of Amer is yet to come. Currently he is working on a new Reggae project named Al Mokhtar that will be released in the near future.

I’m not a pure political artist, but rap can definitely change a mindset

When it comes to subject matter, Arabic rap is more about war, politics, social issues and personal issues as well, unlike most western rappers who tend to address matters such as gangster life