Beyond stigmas, HIPSTER/MUSLIM aims to start a conversation. Through personal interviews about identity, prejudices, faith – it’s a new playground given to speech. In conversation with Nabil and Bassel, the youth worker and musician
Nabil (1994), youth worker, born, lives and works in Molenbeek
I hang out with many types of people. I’ve got my friends from the neighborhood, school friends and work colleagues. Most of them call me as “crazy Nabil”, someone who dares to do a lot of crazy things sometimes. With other people I show my quieter side. Thanks to my Moroccan and Belgian influences, I’ve been raised to get along with everyone.
Some friends of mine go on vacations to Morocco every year. They listen to Moroccan music only and won’t attend a football match unless Morocco is playing. To me these things don’t matter. Like I’m not an expert in traditional Moroccan culture. I’m more familiar with the culture of this country. At home we used to watch Belgian TV. I was fond of the Looney Tunes and Bruce Lee.
The education I received was strict. We were not allowed to go out without a good reason and if we wanted to go to the park, my mother always came along. Our friends were already allowed to go there alone. My brothers and sisters and I became autonomous pretty late.
My favorite spot was the basketball court. In our neighborhood there was one we were allowed to decorate with graffiti. It was torn down unfortunately. Afterwards the park became my new favorite spot. I also hang out on the town square sometimes, at a friend’s. We talk a little.
Throughout the year I do a lot of volunteer work, especially in Molenbeek. I train girls for basketball and I coach people to become youth workers. I also organize activities for kids in the area. I work at a concert venue, in Molenbeek too. This year will also be the fifth edition of a project I’ve called “Street Talent”. It’s a search for young artists in Brussels based on the show “Belgium’s Got Talent”.
Good youth workers do make a difference too. If I got where I am today it’s thanks to them. It’s also thanks to them that I’m so active in Molenbeek.
I was born in Brussels. Since then I’ve always lived in Molenbeek. I’ve learned everything here. Some people are still surprised to see how tall I am when I stand next to my mother. I’m clearly much bigger than her now.
I live in the most crowded street in Brussels; it’s full of social housing. My building is 13 story’s high and there are a lot of interactions between neighbors. We see who’s new, who’s on holidays in Brussels, who’s moved out… Everybody knows each other and each other’s relatives. We all played together in the park when we were kids. It was either football or basketball. We agreed on a time to meet up and if you wanted to play alone, you had to come earlier. I was more into basketball.
I feel at ease in Molenbeek. I mean I know a lot of people here. But I don’t need to be in Molenbeek, I feel comfortable anywhere in Brussels. Most of the time I’m by my building with some friends. As soon as I get bored I go downstairs to chitchat a little or go for a walk. My friends work in the neighborhood so I pass by for an hour or two when I know it’s quiet. Molenbeek is a very friendly neighborhood.
Back then when my mother went to Morocco and we had to stay here, the upstairs neighbor phoned us every day to make sure we had enough to eat, like a mom. But all the neighbors are very close, no just the Moroccans families.
Good things are happening in Molenbeek. People get involved in the neighborhood, for the kids, so they don’t have to live in as much misery as we did. Youth Centers are popping up for instance. Good youth workers do make a difference too. If I got where I am today it’s thanks to them. It’s also thanks to them that I’m so active in Molenbeek.
My beard is an aesthetic thing. I like it and besides, I don’t like to shave.
I believe in God, increasingly so. When I was a child I used to think my parents forced me into it, but once I’ve started reading and practicing, I understood. I wasn’t dedicated to praying before. Sometimes I stopped. Only when I turned 18 it became a daily habit.
I don’t live according to my religion but it does influence the way I live, eat, and show respect to others. Even though I don’t get anything in return. Old people can be pretty aggressive for example, but I always remain polite towards them.
My beard is an aesthetic thing. I like it and besides, I don’t like to shave. Anyway people always look at me strange. Not only because I’m a “foreigner”, Moroccans do it as well. It’s my Afro. To them it’s wrong. One must cut their hair.
Original interview in Flemish – translated to English by Mélanie Cravero
Bassel (1996), musician, works and lives in Brussels (Sint Katelijne)
I’m a 21 years old kid who’s been up to a lot of stuff, like music. I work in a bar to pay my rent because I don’t have parents to pay it for me. I do have a family though. My mom lives in Denmark and my sister is a professional musician in Germany. She plays the violin.
I work and live in the center. If I go walk the dog I always run into someone I know. It’s a small village. When I first arrived in Brussels I thought it was a dirty place, full of trash and drunks. It took me some time to really get to know the place and make friends. The best thing about Brussels is people’s openness. They don’t necessarily interact with each other much but at least they live together. There’s a kind of harmony.
Everyone gets down once in a while. But there comes a time when you need to get up. Eventually I figured out how to get an apartment, a job and some friends. I’ve built a world of my own where I can be myself again. Heaven is in your head.
I grew up in Damascus, Syria. Here and there feels the same since I‘ve made friends. Also my apartment has two bedrooms and a living room, just like the one I had back in Damascus. People are different though. The place where I come from is very lively and crowded. It used to be very welcoming as well. After the war, before the crisis, we opened up to the Iraqis and the Lebanese. Eccentricity was tolerated too. You could be a musician, have long hair or a piercing, it was fine. Now everyone’s running around with a gun. It’s crazy. Here people are quieter and I can do what I want. It’s perhaps a little childish but that’s how I feel.
I’m trying to keep my spirit up otherwise I’d be lying in bed the whole day. Everyone gets down once in a while. But there comes a time when you need to get up. Eventually I figured out how to get an apartment, a job and some friends. I’ve built a world of my own where I can be myself again. Heaven is in your head.
Burnouts do come back sometimes. I wake up with the urge to do something, like starting a band. But when I think too much about it my days get longer. That’s what happens when you overthink something you want badly. Yet again I see these lapses as tiny vacations, where you allow yourself to take a break. When you’re thirsty you drink. When you’re tired, you turn off your phone and you rest.
I was eight when I started playing the cello. I still have it with me. A friend of mine brought it back from Syria on New Year’s Eve. I released my first album two years ago. It was oriental fusion with Syrian musicians. The second one I composed is a contemporary fusion between oriental and Flamenco music. It’s a piano, cello and accordion’ trio. I met with the other two guys at a jam session in Brussels. But I don’t see myself as someone who’s good enough to only play the cello. Now I’m going to be a sound designer.
I don’t have regrets. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve been through since I left Syria because in the end, it’s not the place that matters it’s whom you are
I don’t care about anything else but to try and figure out a way to live. Some people work in offices and wear suits. That’s not my style. When I was 14 I got my first tattoo. Now I have seven of them. My mother has always supported me but my father didn’t like it in the beginning. I did it anyway without asking for his permission. Afterwards they told me, “you’re getting tattooed but at least don’t write your lover’s name or anything stupid.” They trusted me. Today I’ve achieved a great deal in Belgium. I performed at the Acienne Belgique, before François Hollande a couple of years ago and I’m already releasing a second album.
I don’t have regrets. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve been through since I left Syria because in the end, it’s not the place that matters it’s whom you are. Things change, people change. Where you stand is up to you. Two years ago when I came here I was eager to find out about who I was and what I wanted. Now I know how to get there by myself.
Interview edited by Mélanie Cravero