Kareem Salama (literally translated as ‘Generous Peace’) is known as the first American Muslim Country Singer, but he’s a guy who doesn’t seem interested in such labels. While he admits his music has a distinct country vocal styling, he is more interested in what he can say with his music than how to define it, or himself. He was born in Oklahoma to Egyptian immigrant parents, and so has a thorough understanding of both these worlds that he brings to his music.
What are you trying to say with your music?
Probably the biggest message I try to relate is the humanity of various people. I try to bring people together through my music. That’s a recurring theme. [Newly recorded song “I Am You”] is a conversation between an Arabic speaker and an English speaker and they say the same thing over and over to each other until they have some sort of sacred connection to one another. That theme comes back over and over again to try and make people see how close they are to one another.
Is music especially suited to trying to bring people together?
I use music as it comes naturally to me. But I think that music and words have a marriage. In a powerful melody it can bypass some of the prejudices and go straight to a person’s heart. It’s harder to argue with a song.
Was country music a conscious choice of genre?
Not initially. A lot of the music sounded country because I like country music. Then it changed as I worked with some different people and now it’s a hybrid. It changes more naturally, I’m trying to get to the point where there’s not a genre, just whatever the song calls for.
Is it hard being a Muslim country singer in America?
I don’t think so because my audience is diverse. My mother’s friend, Martha from Mississippi loves country music, and I mean loves, and she loves my music. All my mother’s friends, who grew up listening to country music, love my music too.
Conversely, is it hard to deliver your message to Muslims in such a distinct style of music?
Folks over here listen to western music. I think that the music I do is more pop/country, anyway. There’s a country vocal styling but I think if you sing Arabic it kinda sounds like that sometimes – a deep, sort of soulful sound of music.
Do you worry about alienating people on either side?
I don’t think so. I think my music is meant to bring people together. The only reason I recorded the song “I Am You” is because we did a show (originally only intending to play it live) and people just reacted so strongly to it that I knew we had to record it for people to have. A lot of times all you’re doing is reminding people of something that is already in them, they know things, they just need reminding.
What is your favorite line of poetry?
In an Arabic poem a man sees a beautiful woman and starts to describe her using metaphor. He said ‘a pearl fell from a mayflower and irrigated or moistened a rose.’ The pearl is her tear, the mayflower her eye and her cheek, the rose, and he just keeps going and going as he is overcome by the beauty of this woman. I remember I talked to my mom about that and she said, people don’t see people like that anymore. A lot of your ability to see beauty is contingent on the beauty that’s inside you.
What does the future hold for Kareem Salama?
A couple of years ago I partnered with an investment firm to build a label, initially around myself and then to take on other artists. So I would like to, even beyond my music, create a sort of creative center where artists feel comfortable bringing what they bring while finding a way to monetize that – but still make good music with authentic people who care about their message and care about their brand. So I want to be good on both sides – on the business side, but at the same time I want there to be authentic music.
For more information on Kareem Salama visit his website www.kareemsalama.com.