Friday, November 13, 2015

New single "Dead Centre" produced by Joelistics

HERE IT IS! DEAD CENTRE, produced by Joelistics. I’ve made it free download so you can bump it in your Ipods, cars and kitchens while you’re stirring up the laksa. You know the deal — pass it on if you dig it!

Monday, November 9, 2015

New single "Dead Centre" coming this Friday the 13th!

My new single "Dead Centre" comes out this Friday. It's about racism, "outsiders", Werner Herzog and Dr. J. Man I'm excited to show you all! Took three years off to see if I could write a novel but to be honest I was missing making music the whole time. Last year after a Speech Therapy gig in Sydney I was in a cab with Joelistics and he was like "mannn when are you gonna get some new tunes out?!" So we decided to get to work. Keep two eyes and two ears out!

Friday, November 6, 2015

What's in a Smile?

A silk flower blooms 
in his daughter’s hair,
& his little son has a lovely smile
missing a single tooth.

The man walks with them
into the food court
with triceps as tense
as any necessary conversation.

amongst Indian street food & Islander diners,
Souvlaki sellers & African eaters,
South Americans pinching together empanadas
& Asian waiters,
he is six-foot-four & striding,
tatted arms & a head shaved right down.

One tatt says "ARYAN."
One is a Third Reich eagle.
One says “1488”,
which is code for a phrase:

"We must secure the existence of our people 
and a future for white children.”

“But he looks pretty dark to me,”
says my Samoan mate.

The man buys his kids 
cinnamon twists & cupcakes,
& bends down to kiss his daughter
right where a streak of glitter
sends a constellation across her cheek.

As he passes me & my mate,
the man smiles & nods,
with intimacy & recognition,

as if we are friends.

— Omar Musa, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

"W.S. Rendra — Someone You Should Know About" by Omar Musa

“Bravery is on the horizon and struggle is the work of words” — W.S. Rendra

Today I will be speaking about a man who is considered to be the most famous poet that Indonesia has ever produced, a man I have heard described as criminally unknown in the West — W.S. Rendra. I would hazard a guess and say that many of you wouldn’t have heard of him. His work isn’t studied in Australian high schools and outside of Bahasa Indonesia or Asian Studies courses, as far as I know, is not a staple of university literature courses. Much is made about how Australians are uneasy and lacking in knowledge about our nearest, most populous neighbour to the north, outside of the collective vulgarity on Kuta Beach or shadowy executioners. This must change. It is not just a matter of economic or diplomatic necessity, it is that we as Australians are missing out on a rich, textured, multi-layered culture and history that would enrich us. And what better way to get access to a country than through its artists, its poets.

I was lucky enough to meet Rendra when he was on a tour in Australia in the early Nineties. Already in his sixties then, he still had his famous flowing black hair and a swagger that earned him the nickname of “Burung Merak” or “The Peacock” in the Indonesian press. When my parents introduced me to him, they said “this man is a poet. But when he reads his poetry, he performs it with his whole body, he performs it to crowds of thousands, in stadiums with rock bands, to poor people, at political rallies.” What my parents told me affected me greatly and this idea, that poetry was not boring and dusty, that it lived and breathed, that it could be dangerous and provocative, and this idea one day led me to hip hop. I am not an academic or expert, but I will try to give you an overview of his life and works. But first, I will read from a poem named “The Song of the Cigar.”

“The Song of the Cigar”

As I smoke my cigar,
I watch Indonesia
and hear 130 million people.
In the sky
a couple of carpetbaggers squat 
and shit on their heads.

The sun rises.
Dawn comes.
I can see
Eight million children
who will not go to school today.

I ask why,
and my questions bounces
against the idle desks of the bureaucrats 
and the empty blackboards of their teachers.
No one gives a damn.

Eight million children
facing a long road,
with no alternatives,
trees, resting places,
or future.

As I breathe 
the deodorised air,
I see unemployed graduates
labouring in the streets;
I see prostitutes queuing for their pensions.
In the sky
the technocrats tell us
that we’re the lazy race,
that we ought to be more advanced,
that we ought to be upgraded,
that we have to be adjusted to the new technology.

The mountains stretch
into the multicoloured evening sky.
I can see men burying their resentment under their beds.

I ask why,
and my questions bounce
against the pulpits of the salon poets,
as they sing of wine and the moon,
ignoring the injustices around them
and the eight million children who won’t be going to school,
who kneel adoringly 
before the goddess of art.

(Bunga bunga bangsa tahun depan
ber-kunang kunang pandang matanya,
dibawah iklan berlampu neon.
Ber-juta juta harapan ibu dan bapa
menjadi gelbalau suara yang kacau,
menjadi karang dibawah muka samodra.)

The hungry children,
flowers of the future,
can barely see,
despite the brightly lit billboards.
The hopes of millions of parents
turn into a confused jumble of voices,
turn into underwater coral. 

We must stop importing foreign methodologies.
Rote learning gives only empty formulae.
We must learn to describe our own world.
We must go out into the streets,
out into the villages,
write down the symptoms we see
and define the real problems.

These are my poems.
A pamphlet for a state of emergency.
Art is meaningless
when it is separated from the suffering of society.
Thought it meaningless
when it is separated from the problems of life.

This poem is taken from a famous book of poetry named “A State of Emergency,” which Rendra described as a collection of “pamphlets”, designed to be easily understood, polemical, direct and declarative. When I think of injustices going on in our own country, and the strange balance between sloganeering and bureaucratic jargon in public discourse, I think of what a necessity this type of urgent, critical speech is.

W.S. Rendra was born Willibrodus Surendra Rendra in Solo, Central Java, in November 1935. His mother was a singer and his father was a high school teacher. He was educated in Catholic schools in Solo and Jogjakarta (both important cultural centres) and then in the English department of the University Gajah Mada. He travelled to Russia with a student group from that university in 1957. He also spent three years in America, 1964 to 1967, at the American Academy of Dramatic Art, New York. In the 1960s he was putting on his own plays, many of them experimental and based on Western theatre, employing the use of onomatopoeic sounds. 

He was committed to a life of art and poetry, and believed whole-heartedly in its ability to change society for the better. In order to do this, he believed he had to be self-reliant. In his own words, he said, “to be an artist in a developing country like Indonesia means to live a life without infrastructure. You are driven only by the nature of histrionic impulse, by talent. You have to nurture yourself.” Rendra saw himself as someone separate from the power structures of society, a necessary outsider, often quoting a Javanese proverb about how a sage must be “in the wind,” compared to a court performer, who lived to please and entertain the ruler. He saw the Indonesian language and its national literature as a way to unify disparate people. Many of his plays were banned because they were critical of the Suharto regime.

With his flamboyant performance style, he continued to be one of few people to openly criticise the Suharto regime. He could draw crowds of thousands of people to his poetry readings. In 1979, during a poetry reading in the Ismail Marzuki Art Center in Jakarta, Suharto’s military intelligence agents threw ammonia bombs on to the stage and arrested him. He was imprisoned in the notorious Guntur military prison for nine months after that.

Rendra’s poetry brims with an incandescent, performative anger. Harry Aveling, a pre-eminent scholar of Rendra’s works, says that they are meant for the stage — they judge, they appeal to the audience to change, they set characters in dramatic situations. They focus on the plight of poor Indonesians and government corruption. However, the poet in Rendra tempers direct and declarative statements with beautiful images and a great humanism. Aveling says that his poetic work in the 1960s started by telling vivid, colourful stories about “the little people” — peasants, outlaws, rebels, women who suffered. It was always stories or ballads about people who were suffering government injustice or social injustice. 

Rendra then moved on from writing about country life to diligently observing lower class urban life. Aveling believes that something often brushed over about Rendra’s life is that he was in fact an aristocrat, which might go some way to explaining his ardent belief that he was “responsible for the condition of society”. Rendra himself says, “to write a social poem is not part of my artistic credo. It’s a result of my responsiveness to life and social and political life is a factor of life that I don’t consider taboo for me as a poet to write about.”

Aveling says that “a simple moral philosophy underpins Rendra’s social verse… that all are human and that crime and respectability are social attributes rather than personal ones.” He says that sometimes this philosophy is applied one-sidedly, showing the outsiders are victims of their situations without agency. He goes on to say that there are two types of people in Rendra’s poems — men and women, the men aggressive doers and women passive receivers. A.H. Johns says that at times he was unabashedly chauvinist and unashamedly preoccupied with sex. Indeed, he left behind eleven children from three marriages.

Another preoccupation of Rendra’s is the destruction of the natural world. You would have seen that forest fires are burning in Sumatra and Kalimantan, so this is still a massive concern. Let me read another poem, where he again blends the personal and the political.

“Testimony, 1967”

The world we are building is an iron world of glass and howling holes, 
the dreams we chase are dreams of shining platinum.
Tomorrow’s world is no longer virginal
but mined and open to all…
the world we walk is a world of poverty. 
The situation which imprisons us 
is the gaping jaw of a jackal. 
Our fate flies like a cloud,
opposing and mocking us, becoming mist in the sleep of night
and sun in the work of day. We will die in the middle of our fate,
hands arrogant and clenched,
hands which rebel and ache,
hands which tear at the sacred envelope
which holds the hollow letter written in difficult characters which we cannot read.
We shall die in the middle of our fate.

There is a seam of melancholy that runs through many of the poems, but also an exhibitionist playfulness. The rhythms of ritual play a large part in his poems, perhaps in part informed by his Catholic childhood (he later converted to Islam). One of his well known poems is about a preacher who is devoured by his congregation. It is impossible not to see parallels with a corrupt politician and an increasingly angry and frustrated mob. Refrains like “bang-bing-bong”, “tra-la-la” and “cha cha cha” run throughout the poem. 

Excerpt from “Khotbah” (“Sermon”)

“They roared like animals.
Grr-grr-grrr. hura.
Cha-cha-cha, cha-cha-cha.
They stole the window panes.
They took everything in the church.
The candelabra. The curtains. The carpets.
Then they chopped his body to bits.
Everyone ate his flesh. Cha-cha-cha.
They feasted in the strength of their unity.
They drank his blood.
They sucked the marrow from his bones.
Until they had eaten everything
and there was nothing left.

You may have seen in the news that censorship has again reared its ugly head in Indonesia. Indonesian authorities have forced the organisers of the country’s biggest literary festival, the Ubud Writers and Writers Festival, to cancel events about the mass killings of communists fifty years ago. This type of wilful historical amnesia is present in every country to varying degrees, but it is always incredibly dangerous.

A few years ago, I found out that I would sharing the bill with Rendra at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali in 2009 (I was much lower on the bill, of course). I was very excited that I would be able to meet him nearly twenty years after that first time, and that I would be able to tell him how important he had been in my life, how pivotal that meeting had been for me. Sadly, he passed away several weeks before the festival. I was not able to meet him for a second time, but I what I can do is pass on something of his inspiring legacy to you. I will by once again using some of the great man’s words.

“I’m tired but I’m not ready to die.
I’m standing at the crossroads.
I can feel myself turning into a dog.
But something in me still wants to write poetry,
like a human being.”

Monday, October 19, 2015

ACT Book of the Year voting!!

Hey friends sorry to be totally shameless but let's harness the power of social media! Please vote for me for People's Choice award in ACT Book awards. It's pretty unlikely I'll get main one but sling a vote my way for this!! Only takes about 30 sec:

Friday, September 4, 2015

The skullmen (unfinished)

The skullmen sat around the ocean, as if it were a table. They watched miniature men and women in boats forge their way across perilous meridians and vast stretches of ocean that from afar looked as smooth as slate. The skullmen dipped their long, moon-white digits into the waters from time to time, to stir up whirlpools or set tidal waves in motion. To the skullmen, the ocean was a game, yet it was not them who bore the risk, so it was not without joy that they played an elaborate strategy of deflection and capture.

To many of us onlookers, rage turned to despair, mostly because we could see ourselves in the men and women in the boats, of course we could, in their eyelashes and palms and choiceless tears, knowing that our blood flowed within them as silent and desperate as a prayer. But most terrifying of all — we saw ourselves in the skullmen. Maybe not our true selves, but a semblance of ourselves. Because the skullmen had been like us once, before they unpieced themselves of principle, leaving just the bright bone and the white grin.

And we said then that history would judge the skullmen harshly, how could they not see it, but our words seemed useless and small, a petty privilege, chaff and not seed — sustaining nothing, growing into nothing. So we turned our faces and wept, wept for a drowned boy, for the ones before and the ones to come, for our spirits bleached white by a cruel sun.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"Supernova" by Omar Musa

A new short story by ME! In the Griffith Review​. It's about telescopes & tandoori & voting in Malaysia. "Supernova":

Monday, July 20, 2015

An ACT-based arts practice?

Hello people,

I just got informed that my novel “Here Come the Dogs” is not eligible for nomination in the artsACT’s ACT Book of the Year, because I have not adequately displayed “an ACT-based arts practice.” I found this interesting, because it opens up a very particular can of worms.

A couple of thoughts.

OK, let’s get it out of the way quickly — yes, I am from (and live in) Queanbeyan, NSW, and I rep it very hard. I’m not trying to be labelled “a Canberra writer” (although I’ve noticed that Canberra often seems keen to claim me as one) or even be shortlisted for this prize, though hey, let’s not lie, it’s always nice. The point is that we all know that Queanbeyan is part of the Canberra region, and that our arts’ practices have been inextricably linked for time immemorial. We have a very particular history and the reality of a region where there is a major city/territory surrounded by smaller towns is that there will be constant back and forth and exchange. The point is that so-called “regional” artists like myself or Jackie French, can contribute to the development of writerly culture in Canberra, but not be awarded for it. 

It’s pretty ridiculous that I even have to do this, but let me describe my connection to the Canberra/ACT arts scene. In the past ten years, I have performed countless poetry and hip hop shows in Canberra (whattup Transit Bar/La Di Da/Front Gallery/Phoenix Bar/National Library/National Gallery/ANU Bar/UC Refectory?), I won the Australian Poetry Slam representing the ACT, I have run workshops at numerous high schools and colleges. I launched “Here Come the Dogs” TWICE in Canberra because the city has been focal to my arts’ practice. Hell, a couple of years ago, I even advocated for the creation of a territory-wide ACT slam poetry competition for high school kids, which was subsequently funded by the ACT government (of which artsACT is an arm)! The Canberra arts scene, poetry scene, hip hop scene KNOW me, because I am a PART OF THEM. 

This year alone, I was included in Geoff Page and Kit Kelen’s anthology of “Poetry from Canberra” and asked to launch the “Urban Suburban” exhibition of photography of Canberra and Queanbeyan. A few months ago, I worked with bullied youth at the Messenger’s Arts Program (run by Queanbeyan artist Mariana del Castillo) at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, and it was because I was a local artist that it was believed I would resonate with the kids. I also noticed that I was recently described on Tourism ACT’s website (Tourism ACT being another arm of the ACT government) as a “local artist.”

Yet all of these things combined, some of which have been quite public, do not “an ACT-based arts practice” make. It’s all very, very strange and narrow, and also hypocritical, since artsACT actually gives funding to artists from the “region”. How do I know this? Because they gave me some a few years ago. 

Omar Musa

Monday, May 4, 2015

Do you remember? (unfinished)

Do you remember? (unfinished)

The desert dreams of harvest,
Of holy writ & rain.

The city dreams of ruin,
Of upturned cars
& vine-dressed churches.

The tiger dreams of freedom,
Of shaking loose the stake & chain
& racing into shadows
Large enough to hold
its amber-flame spirit.

But me?

I dream of you.

There was a time we collected
dolphin's teeth
& smoked fish on atolls,
Do you remember?

We star-peeked and longed for more,
Running our hands at the side of the boat,
Reading the ripples,
Looking for a green tinge
on the belly of clouds
Because that meant land & trees.

You told me that
A sunlit lagoon makes a cloud above it

You called me by my true name
& kissed me like I was fireproof,
Proof that we
Could turn the seam between our bodies
Into the equator of a world
conceived in a dream.

When at last we found land,
We swam to the shore,
Tossing our heads like young horses,
Shaking salt from our hair.

We turned back to look at the ocean
with its broken face & merciless boom,
Reflecting in pieces
A private, blood-lit dusk.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

New poem (unfinished)

The Moon (unfinished)

One day,
After it has died,
We will hold a vigil for the moon.

We will burn candles,
Cheap mimics of its light,
& utter prayers we forgot to utter
While it still lived.

And we will say,
"Remember how it
spoke to us its bone-coloured dreams?
Remember how it gave us hope
When all else seemed savage?"

And some will say it was carved 
From whale bone,
While others will swear it was a coin
Flicked from the thumb of God.

And Death will come down the alleyways,
Ringing its bells & swearing its oaths,
Singing its story through
The windows of a ruined world.

And the executioner will cry silently
For those he has slain.
He will caress their shadows
& tell them to run.

But he, they, us,
Will have nowhere to go,
No final memory
But a taste of the moon,
Who once so sweetly told us
Of what we might dream.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Dear Lady Day

New writing! So, it is Billie Holiday's birthday today. I wrote a letter to her a while back for Men of Letters and I thought today would be an appropriate day to post it. Enjoy.

Dear Lady Day,

Before I saw a picture of you, head tilted back, making your fingers snap with a half-smile, styled in a white dress, hair pinned with triple flowers, before I saw the expressive eyebrows, white teeth and a foul mouth rinsed in whiskey & creme de menthe, I heard a voice. Day one, when mum pushed a tape with her thumb into the cassette player of our old white Mazda, I heard a voice. It was jaunty and tragic, scarred and exquisite, gold leaf and gutter, cigarettes and syrup, tough as the bed of nails you slept on, transmuted into playful buoyancy, a voice afire on a black river of tape, toying with the rhythm, smoke cloying and written into sax, strings and keys, the black river of highway unfolded before my family of three. We listened.

My father told me that most pop music was sinful, so I was only allowed a small selection of tapes, but somehow you and Bob Marley (and later Ice Cube) made the cut. Was it that he couldn’t understand exactly what you were saying, your backstory, sex, drugs, on parole, the bath of mustard water you sat in to get rid of the baby, your lust for men and women, or was it something in your voice that affected him too? On every road-trip, from Queanbeyan to Queensland, we were transported into fifties nightclubs with a dusty crackle — we worked that tape to death. Why not take all of me, you said. And we did.

Dear Lady Day — the world is as large as it is close. The right type of voice, with all its jagged or whetted edges, can cut through an ocean, through a generation or three. I realised that... then. When you spoke of strange fruit in the South swinging from trees, I’d heard similar tales of similar fruit on the South Coast of New South Wales, if the yarns and whispered history of old fullas were to be believed. And those scars you had, we saw plenty of those in Canberra and Queanbeyan in the 90s, people on the nod, each bearing a brutal map of stars on the arms, pinpointing the direction to hurtful gods. And when you spoke of your man, who wasn’t true, who beat you too, when you asked “what can I do?”, I knew up close what you meant, up close, about charming, violent men, about what a poisonous addiction they can be, about the beating hearts of the beaten, trapped within flatblock cement.

They say it was your sax player, Lester Young, who you truly, truly loved, though, most likely, you were never lovers. There is footage of you singing “Fine and Mellow”, reuniting with him on stage for the last time. Black and white, the smoke drifts — you and he are both close to the end, and you both know it. At first we hear you talking — there are sad blues, there are happy blues, you just have to feel it. Halfway through the song, Lester step forward and plays the purest solo on God’s green earth. You lean towards him, some type of wonder in your eyes, look down, nod, smile strangely, and as you said, that smile wasn't a smile at all. Oh, the things that could have been.

When the white Mazda ran out of miles, the cassette era ran out too. We replaced the tape with a live CD but this one wasn’t quite the same. It wasn’t one of your good days. Your words unintelligible — your voice sapped and hopeless. When my mum explained how young you had died and from what, I felt sorry for you, but nowadays, not so much. Because we all die, we all yearn. We all shine, all burn, bearing witness to each other’s rises and falls, we are unified in our pain, and that other thing it bears, beauty. You lived the way you wanted, this bright hyphen between darkness and darkness. It wasn’t about perfection, it was about feeling, but somehow, somehow, that made it… perfect.

Yours truly,

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Hey everyone,
I am extremely late on this, but you know, I had a novel to write the past couple of years so I've been distracted! Here are the lyrics/words to my TEDx speech at the Sydney Opera House. Very honoured that so many students are studying it in English, or choosing it as a text to analyse. All the best! Much love,


i knew none of their government names back then. back then,
some of the most wondrous people i knew were self-destructive,
talented vandals who took to relationships with mallet & saw.

there was beauty in the streets, you could see it everywhere,
in fishtails & donuts, the silver cursive that slanted off tyres,
in spraycan fumes & opals of oil,
in kickflips & crossovers, cuts & kebab shops
in sneakers that cluster-hung like grapes on powerlines

and in that… something.

could they see it too?

the generation who printed a crystal font on its bloodstream?
the entrepreneur with czech pistol
and silencer as thick as a ballerina's wrist?

this was the australia i saw.

no don bradman
no pavlova
no coastline etched in shale
no white sails of the opera house NO.

these were suburbs inscribed on scarified earth,

an alphabet of exiles far from lands of birth,
I'm talking pittance workers & remittance senders,
custodians & the kids of immigrants, you know the ones,
the ones heard about, not from, the ones talked at, not to,

the ones on the margin made to feel very small
in other words,

each day, like smoke, i unwound up the stairs.

I smelled many cuisines, I heard many tongues.
in flat 7 a macedonian man said "Shopraish brother?" as he massaged his elbow.
the tongan woman in flat 16 said "maloelelei?" as she prepared for her third night shift in a row,
my mother and father said "assalamu-alaikum" when i entered flat 26

I learned that in Malay culture,
a storyteller is named penglipur lara -
"dispeller of worries", "reliever of sorrows,"

the name also given to a garden of delights where all cares are lost.

And what delights, what insights in stories, what power to give voice to the worlds inside.

But there are many kinds of stories.

I heard

carnivorous tales lope down gentrifying streets.

the hiss of talkback serpents,

the whistle of go-back-to-where-you-came-froms,

I lost faith & leapt into the whirlpool.

Reckless hours, pilled & powdered, full of sex & camaraderie.
part of me knew on days like this,
the timer ticked, history slipped,

we skipped words like stones from our hands,

words that that couldn't be retrieved
like love like hate, like us, like goodbye.

Yet somehow


I found that something,

like a magic key connecting ancient and new,

I found it
on beats, breaks, tapes and acetate,

unordained lionhearts on thrones self-made.
Do you hear what I'm talking about?

I'm talking about Tupacs and Lauryn Hills Tupacs,
Rakims, Nas's, Kendrick Lamars,

Public Enemies,

syphoning El Haji Malik El Shabazz.
Jimblahs, Deltas & Brad Struts, Ozi Batlas,
Hilltops & Horrorshows, Def Wish Casts & Koolisms.
Do you hear what I'm talking about?

I'm talking about the numberless underground kings & queens

who taught us the power of our voices, of nonconformity,
that each lyric
each windmill
each scarred "45
each fan of paint from a nozzle
was a story aching to be told,

unfolding before us the fractals of cosmos & starlight,

a world suddenly unbearably bright.

So linger now, linger with me.

Consider that somehow,

despite the broken bottles & tatted bigotry

we could still own that something,

be that something,

something airborne,

gold shot,

beings arranged in a calligraphy of rhythm & rebellion,

people with so much damn resilience
it is impossible not to smile.

So let it play, that something, let it play.

Weave your stories into nets,
drag them behind zig zagging  decks,
zooped up cars, trams & trains, through streets & sunsets,
trawl for the things you thought you'd lost.

Because you, me, US, we are more than statistics,
more than misfits,

we are more than "your dreams are unrealistic."
This is the paint that drips from each brick,

the spirit that soothes the weary limb,

this is the new scripture of our lives,
spelled skyscraper high in CAPITAL LETTERS — BOLD.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Hey everyone, thanks for the birthday wishes! Feeling blessed.. I like to announce things on my bday, cos it kicks off the year in a positive way. So I'm happy to announce that this year I'm going to put out a SOLO HIP HOP ALBUM, executive produced by my bro Joelistics from TZU! Joelistics is the first Aus MC I ever saw live, way back in the day, so it's a bit of a spin-out. I'm so excited. Writing the novel was incredible, and of course I'll do it again, but I have really missed the ENERGY of rapping, making music, doing hip hop shows. It feels like time. We've already been working on a bunch of new tunes, and have some great producers/guests on board, so look out in the coming months for a taste of it. I'm trying to reach for a new level with this one. Much love everyone