Many have heard this song before – whether on YouTube or as famously re-shared by singer/songwriter/actor/author Tyrese Gibson on his Facebook page, which reached a whopping 7 million views. That’s right, “Hala (We Dem Boyz Arabia Remix)”, is the clever, regional play on words by the original Wiz Khalifa hit, “We Dem Boyz”. It’s catchy, relatable, and we have brothers Ya’koob and “Humble Abdul” Abdul’Rahman Al Refaie, a.k.a. Sons of Yusuf to thank for that.
When we sat down to meet the fraternal duo, they opened with describing themselves as artists, creatives, producers, and first and foremost people of the planet Earth. They then credited the name of their collective, and their overall artistic sense of being to their father, Yusuf Al Refaie. “Our father Yusuf is an artist, a visionary, and our mentor.” Humble Abdul quips. “He inspired and encouraged us since we were kids, to dream big and never give up, to love all people and help change the world. That’s why we are sons of Yusuf.” Between brothers working together and paying homage to the root of their talent and sense of being, it’s easy to see that the act keeps it down to earth and in the family when seeking inspiration.
Another great inspiration for them is their culture, and namely, their hometown, which they discuss with gusto. “After traveling and living in many places around the world at a young age, we always had to tell people about our culture and background. Our intention was always to spread a message and share our story and change the false media and image that’s out there, which is mostly targeting Muslims or Arabs. We felt like we needed to speak up and do something about it.”
In fact, they did something about it in the way they knew best. They gave viewers a sense of what modern Kuwaiti culture is really like, be they expatriates, strangers to the culture and/or region, or familiar locals. Either way, there’s a sense of dedication and representation we see in their music, and if it’s any indication, what’s to follow will be no different.
To Sons of Yusuf, representing Kuwait is important, and it’s evident that their modern-meets-traditional representation of the country through music, specifically using established western music as a base, speaks volumes about their personal views on the potential of a modern, musical scene here. “We feel like Kuwait has a lot of potential, and can give birth to many new thinkers and leaders of tomorrow. Music has always been here, and Kuwait has influenced many of the music and art in the Gulf. It will soon be recognized worldwide Inshallah – why not?” And perhaps the first step to that is by making it relatable. The question lies, though – has Wiz Khalifa noticed this remixed work of art? Ya’Koob informs us, “We know he’s heard the track, but we haven’t heard any direct feedback from him.” It has, however, caught the eye of Tyrese, as well as other acclaimed acts, such as Talib Kweli, a described “favorite hip-hop legend” by the collective, who the brothers have worked with in the recent past, for the sweet surprise they have in the works for us to enjoy.
Currently, Sons of Yusuf are building their craft to graduate from their catchy cover to more original works. With plans for a debut album Sheikh the World to be released in early 2017, they are excited to produce the album in the best way possible, using none other but Grammy award winning producer Shafiq Husayn, and featuring artists such as Talib Kweli, Yancey Boys, Consequence, Narcy and more. The album will be available on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, TIDAL and everywhere else. “We have a lot more coming, Inshallah – we’re just getting started.”
The Los Angeles-based brothers frequent Kuwait and vehemently take their culture back and forth with them wherever they go in the world, and they do tend to travel a lot, toting the influence of their art like they would suitcases. “Being able to travel the world and connect, and seeing the impact we can have on people has been a great experience and we’re very thankful for that.”
As for media coverage and exposure, the brothers feel that they’ve been representing Kuwait wherever they find themselves, from the Middle East Institute in Washington DC to Expo2020 in Dubai, CNN to Al Arabiya. The brothers recognize these achievements as rewarding, and they count every single experience as a blessing “Alhamdulilah we’ve been getting great feedback from all over the world. We love Kuwait and we’re going to continue representing our home.”
How do they juggle all this talent with life’s trials and tribulations, not to mention the everyday responsibilities to take care of amidst making music and influencing the globe through their art? “It’s all about balance,” Ya’koob responds matter-of-factly, “between family, work, prayer, and everything in between. Our time is limited and we try to make the most out of every day.” Though balance can sometimes be a struggle, looking to their hip hop roots gives them the tools to create a new vision for the world through important lessons they’ve learned along the way by immersing themselves through the genre’s culture. “Hip hop gives us the opportunity to reach out, speak our minds and connect with the world. [The connection] really just happened, it’s not something we chose to start. We always had music in the house growing up, so we always did that, and we grew up around Hip Hop culture.”
The Sons of Yusuf journey proves that music and culture can be melded to create something brilliant, and that, as a collective, they are so much more than a cover group. Humble Abdul leaves us with this pearl of inspiration: “We hope we’re bringing a positive vibe to the scene and to inspire young artists to follow their dreams and make an impact in the world. We support the art and music scene out here, and we want to help make it grow with the intention of uplifting the youth and the next generation.”