By Enrico Zammarchi, PhD Student, Department of Comparative Studies
On February 28 and March 1, an Italian rapper called Amir Issaa visited the Ohio State University for a series of events that brought together music and education. Presenting excerpts from his recently published autobiography, and raising awareness on the situation of second generation Italians, students and faculty enjoyed singing along to the lyrics of Amir Issaa.
Amir Issaa—who usually goes simply by his first name—was born in Rome in 1978 to an Italian mother and an Egyptian father. As an artist and an activist, Amir has been a spokesperson for sons of immigrants and second-generation Italians, collaborating with Italian associations such as UNAR (Italy’s National Anti-Racism Union), Il razzismo è una brutta storia (Racism is a bad story), and with the petition website Change.org. Through his artistic skills, Amir has helped the Italian youth by turning anger into creativity, believing that music can be a powerful means of social change. During his career, he recorded six albums, several EPs, and a new record that is planned to be released sometime in 2018.
Amir has also been active in Italian cinema, composing the soundtrack for Francesco Bruni’s movie Scialla!, and being the first and only rapper to ever walk on the red carpet of the Venice International Film Festival, where the movie premiered. He was nominated for important awards such as the David di Donatello and the Nastro d’Argento.
Amir’s most recent project is an autobiographical book titled Vivo per questo (I live for this), which was published in 2017 by Italian editor Chiarelettere. In the book, Amir describes his life growing up in a working-class suburb of Rome, where he was often subject to racist attacks because of his origins.
Amir’s visit was organized by the French and Italian Graduate Student Association (FIGSA), with the support of the Department of French and Italian, the Department of Comparative Studies, the Center for Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and the Global Mobility Project. During his stay, Amir performed a concert before an audience of more than one hundred students, alternating his songs with a Q&A that focused on his mixed racial origins and on the significance of growing up in Italy as a second generation Italian. Still today, children of immigrants who are born and raised in Italy cannot apply to receive their Italian citizenship until they turn 18; before then, they are forced to stay on a renewable visa, and they risk being deported to their parents’ country of origin if something goes wrong in the bureaucratic process.
On the following day, Amir led a workshop that focused on how to build a rap song. After talking about his own experience as a hip-hop artist in Italy, Amir explained how hip-hop culture allowed him to express himself in ways that were otherwise inaccessible to young artists. He then asked the audience to start working on their own, original lyrics, helping them to come up with ways to create rhymes while being concise. The multicultural and multilingual audience that attended the workshop eventually generated a song that included lyrics in English, Spanish, Italian, and Turkish.
Amir is now back in Italy, after touring the US and bringing his music to US states on the East coast, as well as to California. He is planning on coming back to the US in the Fall for another series of events, and the hope is to see him again soon in Columbus. Amir is on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify.