Muhammad Ali’s pride in his heritage and his faith were inspirational to Musa as he was growing up in a Malaysian Muslim family in Queanbeyan. Using the death of his hero as a narrative touchstone, Musa ducks and weaves between rap, poetry and autobiographical reflection to lay open the pleasures, pains and politics of his life.
Musa artfully evokes his path from childhood in Queanbeyan into adult life with a mix of affection and political insight. His ability to speak about painful memories with emotional honesty and humour brings an intensity to the performance that is mesmerising.
Spoken-word pieces about Queanbeyan and toxic masculinity are followed by powerful raps about his best friend who falls into meth addiction. He takes us into the experience of growing up with a father who is a devout Muslim and a loving mother whose only time alone with her son is the eight-minute car-ride to school.
Adulthood is a whirlwind of binge-drinking, love found then lost, Islamophobia and racism. There’s powerful love poetry followed by political invective against cultural assimilation mixed with irreverent humour about what it means to be “Australian” – Musa delivers it all with eloquent finesse, maintaining an unbroken connection with his audience with unbelievable skill.
Musa has an undeniable gift with words. But few writers could stand alone on a stage and compel our attention for more than an hour. Musa’s ability to weave rhythm and metaphor into potent, soulful and sharp political content is unparalleled. And he does it all with a fine-tuned mix of humour and humility.
Since Ali Died is an inspirational performance and completely deserving of the standing ovation it received.
Omar Musa performed at the Adelaide Festival Centre as part of the OzAsia Festival, which closed yesterday.