18 Apr 2019

IllBaz: "Racism in the music industry... It's always there"

From RNZ Music, 3:30 pm on 18 April 2019

Baz Raghib AKA IllBaz was born in Palestine, and moved from Kuwait to Palmerston North as a child. Now in his twenties, he's a hugely successful DJ, handpicked to support Six60 at their sold-out Western Springs event, and the man behind the High Beams project with Raiza Biza and Melodownz.


IllBaz Photo: supplied

IllBaz performed at the recent You Are Us/ Aroha Nui benefit shows, raising money for those affected by the Christchurch terror attack.

Ten days after the attack Baz sat down with Tony Stamp to discuss how New Zealand responded; what it's like growing up Muslim in Aotearoa; and how racism in the music industry is something he's had to live with.

[The following has been condensed and edited for clarity]

Illbaz: I can't say I'm the greatest Muslim ever. I don't practice as much as mum would like me to. But I grew up as a Muslim, and my mum's a very conservative Muslim. Her family is very engulfed in the political side of things back home. And as you can imagine that's quite intertwined with the culture.

IllBaz logo

IllBaz logo Photo: supplied

My music logo has a big Palestinian flag on it, and it's got the Palestinian shape of the land. So it's engraved into me. It's a part of my identity.

We came to New Zealand from Kuwait. We were in Palestine and we moved to Kuwait. My dad was a civil engineer there. I was born in September in 1991 which was a little after the Gulf War in Kuwait. And at the time mum was looking for immigration status for me and my brothers and my sister.

It seemed like the war was sort of following mum. She'd been through three wars and I think she was just done with it. She applied for residency in the States and New Zealand, and New Zealand accepted us.

So mum made the call and moved us all over to New Zealand, to Palmerston North. A lot of my family actually got accepted into the States. So a lot of them live in Chicago now.

I don't think there's many countries in the world that would take the steps that the New Zealand government and the public have taken in light of the Christchurch mosque attacks.

There’s an Islamic centre that's quite close to my house. It's literally around the corner. The day after it happened, driving past that for the first time and seeing armed police officers standing there made my heart sink, but also seeing so many people outside with flowers and thoughts and prayers was so heart-warming.

At the same time, it was so sad to see the mosque and Islamic centre being closed, which in my lifetime in New Zealand, or in my lifetime period, I've never seen.

Mosques for Muslims are a sanctuary. Whenever something bad happens, mum would be at the mosque helping. So it was this weird feeling of not being able to go somewhere where you're supposed to always feel safe.

But in turn, seeing all the people standing there and giving their support and their prayers, you could see they genuinely cared. It's such a beautiful feeling and it makes you sort of warm inside.

Mum and I went to the Friday prayers at the mosque that she attends and helps out at quite regularly. There was a line of people outside just there supporting us while we prayed, and honestly it brought a tear to my eyes. I'm not going to lie. There was a guy standing there with a Māori flag and the Islamic flag and he was just waving them strong.

It's so emotional because growing up as a Muslim, it's never been the cool thing. It's always quite the opposite. You get yelled at, called a terrorist. Even in a joking manner from people around you. It's always had a bad light. So to see people showing love where's that's never been the case, it's kind of hard to digest in a way, but it's beautiful.

I still get teary eyed when I still see people out there doing something. It's not something that I ever thought I would ever see. People rallying around Muslims is not something I'm used to at all.

None of my brothers or my sister live here. They've all moved. Some of them live in Dubai, and some of them live in Australia.

When the Imam spoke in Christchurch and the call to prayer was broadcast around the entire country, we were all watching it. It's hard to explain how much that means to us.

That's not something in my lifetime I ever thought would happen, that a Muslim call to prayer would go across the nation. The amount of respect that comes from that, it's admirable. There's a reason why Jacinda's face was on the big tower in Dubai. You can see how far that travels.

Hearing that call to prayer, for any Muslim, or any Arab for that matter, is just so calming. It touches you in your heart in a way that it's hard to describe. But then seeing it across a country that's not predominantly Muslim is something beyond my comprehension.

It was amazing. It was beautiful. I know for mum that was really, really special as well. That's what she holds most dear.

I think if you ask any person of colour about racism in the music industry, they'll probably say the same thing. It's always there. It's something we've had to live with.

There are people that have been in this industry for a very long while, since times were different, and it's hard to change that mentality in someone that's forty or fifty-plus. That's the way they are. They're always going to be like that.

And because it is such a multicultural industry, they've had to sort of tone back the way they conversate. But when that's a part of you, it's going to slip out, and it happens a lot.

There are people in the industry that hold pretty strong positions, and you work with these people quite a lot. And every now and then there'll be like a little Bin Laden comment or something and it's like, ‘ha ha ha funny, but really where's that coming from bro?’

Where's that really coming from? You could say any kind of joke in the world. Why do you have to point to that.

I think we've grown quite numb to it. We've kind of accepted it.

But now I’m like: No, no more.

I've achieved a lot in my DJ career that I never thought I would. I'm satisfied. So if I get dropped from my career as a DJ for standing up to something like that, I'll be happy. I'll be a happy man.

It means a lot more to me- that dignity and respect.

I did the SWIDT tour with Melodownz. We were in Christchurch, I believe, in the tour van, all of us. All brown guys.

This white lady just came out of nowhere and just started hurling racial abuse at us. She was yelling at us to get out of her country.

I think everyone's just had enough. We could let that slide and be like, ‘Yeah, all good. Just let them, they're ignorant. Just let them be. Ignorance is bliss. They can live their lives like that’.

But it gets to a point where I'm not going to let that slide. I'm going to say something.

Treating other people like normal human beings: you should live by that. You'd be a better person, I swear to God.

Try it.


IllBaz Photo: supplied