Rapper Narcy & Director Ridwan Adhami Team Up to Highlight Refugee Resilience In 'Free' Video

Courtesy Photo
A scene from the video for "Free" by Narcy.

“These people are refugees, orphans, the forgotten. But they are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters first,” the text reads in hip-hop artist Narcy’s new music video for "Free." For the lead single off World War Free Now, a conceptual album about a nonviolent world devoid of super powers, Narcy once again teamed up with Ridwan Adhami, the photographer behind the famed image used in Shepard Fairey’s “We The People” series, using his portraits of refugees from 19 countries.

Narcy, or Yassin Alsalman, released the song produced by Sandhill as a direct response to the conversation around immigrants and refugees in North America. “I felt that there was a lack of representation, a lack of our narrative in the press, a lack of space for us to just represent ourselves,” he explains in an interview with Billboard.

To create that space for better representation, Narcy tapped Ridwan Adhami for the first time since he directed Narcy’s music video for "Hamdulillah," creating a sequel to their earlier collaboration. The video showcases portraits and clips from Adhami’s five years traveling with Islamic Relief USA as their creative director, during which time he documented refugees and displaced peoples from Bangladesh, Bosnia, Egypt, Palestine, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, among others.

“When I went to Somalia during the famine in 2011, the first thing I noticed was that every wall in Mogadishu had a bullet in it,” Adhami tells Billboard. “The effects of war were clearly visible. But then you realize how strong and resilient the people are. That’s why Scars and Smiles is the name of this collection of work: people see the scars first, but then they should see the beauty of the people who lived it.”

Those portraits, taken over the span of five years, become the backdrop to Narcy’s rhymes, redirecting the spotlight onto the refugees themselves. “In the recent conversations on refugees and the recent attention put on refugees, what I see missing from the conversation are the actual refugees. There is no humanization of the people and we’re lumping them together without ever seeing them,” Adhami explained. “Every person in this video has a deep story.”

That lack of presentation in the media, despite extensive global policies and initiatives pertaining to refugees and immigrants, is what inspired Narcy to create The Medium, an artist collective to foster discussions on identity and politics. “If you see much of the representation of our people in the last 20 years has been really like a vilification and we've always been reactionary. Whereas in the last three years since we started The Medium we wanted to make something that's proactive to share our own stories, as opposed to anti-narrative to what's out there in the world.”

Both Narcy and Adhami see themselves in unique positions where they can bring attention to the voices of refugee communities that otherwise go unheard. “Now that I was blessed to go over there, I have the burden to share their stories, because that is my responsibility,” Adhami said. Although "Free" is in fact free with no direct monetization, it comes with several calls to action. Adhami asks that we, “watch it, feel it, but then share their stories, too.” The rapper-director duo also set up a Crowdrise campaign along with the video, to benefit refugees worldwide through Islamic Relief USA.

"People are standing up and it's working,” Narcy said. “I think we're at a time in history now where there's a rise in mass consciousness, but there's also this huge rise in ignorance at the same time, so we can’t sit around. The time is now.”

Watch the music video for "Free" below.