A Candid Conversation with Omar Mouallem, Edmonton’s Rapidly-Rising Cultural Presence | By Emerson Csorba

Arts Visionaries in Edmonton Part II

Arts Visionaries in Edmonton is a mini-series of several interviews which have been conducted with notable leaders in Edmonton’s arts community. By sharing these interviews, and the thoughts and opinions of some of the city’s strongest leaders, The Wanderer hopes to give Edmontonians a better idea of the strength of the arts in our community, and build relationships with local arts institutions.

Mouallem twoIf one mentions “Edmonton” and “writing” in the same sentence, chances are that the name “Omar Mouallem” will soon arise, as well. Mouallem, who grew up in High Prairie, Alberta before moving to Vancouver for several years, now calls Edmonton his home. In the last several months alone, his presence has been ubiquitous across several well-known media sources, whether it is as contributor to Metro Canada, as one of the Edmonton Public Libraries’ Writer in Residence or as the recent Associate Editor of Avenue Magazine. With such an array of engagements across the city – and I’ve only mentioned a few of them – it is common that Mouallem’s articles reach Edmontonians’ Facebook feeds on at least a weekly basis.

During the December school year break, Omar and I sat down for coffee at Remedy Cafe on 109 street. Originally, I hoped to discuss his most recent CD, a collaboration with producer Dan Currie entitled Edmontosaurus. (The album, by the way, is up for Rap/Hip-Hop Recording of the Year in the Edmonton Music Awards.) Under the title of AOK (Assault of Knowledge), Mouallem has now produced three CDs, with the most recent one focusing in part on the many facets of Edmonton life. Though we discussed “Ozymandias,” “Icarus” (feat. Anonymouz) and “Megagod” (among several other tracks on Edmontosaurus), our conversation branched into several themes woven throughout Mouallem’s latest album. Namely, immortality, mortality, urbanity and Edmonton as a “blank canvass.”

In the months since our Remedy coffee talk, I’ve come to marvel at the impressive diversity of activities taken on by Mouallem. One of the first examples that comes to mind is a February 7 2013 article for Metro Canada, called “A love letter to Edmonton, warts and all.” Following the public debate regarding Oprah’s controversial “truck nuts” gift, Mouallem’s piece put the issue in perspective. He concludes the article, for instance, by writing “In the end it’s those who know you – those who really take the time to know you – that know you’re Canada’s best kept secret. You make pursuing one’s passions easy. And that’s why we love you.” A fitting pre-Valentine’s article, to be sure. As I came to the end of this piece, I could not help but think that Metro Canada must be patting itself on the back, knowing that Mouallem contributes to their publication.

Mouallem, despite his success, does not come across as arrogant or self-serving. As one of Edmonton Public Libraries’ two Writers in Residence, Mouallem shows others how they can share their stories in more imaginative and engaging ways. His Writers’ Corners at EPL range from upcoming collaborations with Breath in Poetry Collective, to a two-day Story Slam event with youth across the city. For Edmontonians eager to whet their writing appetite, the EPL offerings are the way to go: open to the public, and imaginative.

At a very young age, Mouallem has built for himself quite a background in the arts world; however, his thirst for sharing these experiences brings others along with him in the positivity. In looking at Edmonton as a whole, he is a living representation of the ingredients that make Edmonton so unique: a do-it-yourself attitude, as reflected in the recent Make Something Edmonton initiative; a strong sense of community,  as reflected in our robust community league system; and an eclectic mix of interests and talents, which seems to be characteristic of this city’s artists.

E: So I read in Paul Blinov’s Vue Weekly  piece that you and Dan Currie met on Lava Life?

O: That was my joke: the Lava Life of hip hop [laughs]. Dan probably just googled “Edmonton rap artists” and I probably came up on the first search page. I mean, he had just moved here from somewhere in the Greater Toronto Area. He was pretty safe in Ontario, but didn’t know anyone here, and was just looking for someone to spit to his stuff. I was one of the many that he got in touch with. Me and his music just hit it off. I wouldn’t even say that it was me and him that hit it off, because I didn’t meet him for quite awhile, until after we started making music together. It’s odd, but that’s just kind of how it’s done these days.

E: How does that work? Do you just send him something online and he does a beat? 

O: Yeah, the modern rap album, the modern independent rap album these days is not made as much through collaboration, but rather through this system of sending and receiving. So he would just make beats. Not even for me. He’s pretty productive, so he would send me, you know, twenty beats. And I would say, “I really like this, this, this and this”. And then he would just kind of say, “Ok, now do something with it.” I would then send him a rough [version] of it… he would then give me some suggestions – but honestly he wouldn’t, because Dan’s just kind of like “I’ll worry about the beats and you worry about the raps. I just want to hear what it’s going to sound like before it comes out.” And then I would re-record it, as a final – get it mastered. It then gets mastered in Montreal. And then it came back to me, and I didn’t even take it to the printers. I just emailed the high-quality files to Gateway Press on 118 ave, who then probably emailed it to a factory and then it just all showed up. And the first time that I probably had to leave my house for this album is when I picked up the CDs.

E: Really?!

O: Yeah, and feasibly I could have had those mailed to me too!

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