At this time and age, one might feel as though you’ve come across everything and anything you could possibly consume on the face of the internet. With the use of popular social media pages such as Tik-Tok and Instagram, every second of the day, it seems as though we’re constantly being bombarded with one-hit wonders and fast-food music that don’t last until next summer. Sudanese-Canadian wordspiller Mustafa the Poet, however, is an authentic artist who is clearly here for the long run and the cryptic message behind his music will leave you wanting for more.
Mustafa Ahmed, referred to as Mustafa the Poet or Mustafa (Stage Name) is a poet, folks activist and singer-songwriter from the impoverished neighbourhoods of Toronto, Canada. Growing up in Regent Park, a section in Toronto often known for their high crime rates, his childhood can be described as a rough upbringing, however, filled with humidity and community-orientation. In fact, Mustafa´s prominence in Toronto started as young as the age of Twelve, when he received recognition for his spoken word poetry and flourished in the hearts of spectators. It was then that he got his first taste of media coverage all over the nation, before 2021 when he slowly took over the world.
The power in Mustafa’s words in parallel to being a legitimate folk hero to his community whilst directing a short documentary called ‘Remember Me, Toronto’ for example, quickly followed with the Regent Park poet placing a foot into songwriting. As a close associate to the international star Drake, the young writer managed to land his first big gig writing for The Weeknd on 2016 slow jam ‘Attention’. With this contribution alone, it automatically solidified Mustafa into the music industry as he then continued to song-write for superstar Camila Cabello, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber and more. Most surprisingly, Mustafa also operated as a fellow collaborator of Italian luxury brand Valentino and joined forces for a remarkable collection. The collaboration included Mustafa’s poetry intertwined between beautiful elegantly cut outerwears and accessories displayed on a runway show. On one occasion, he explains that the Italian fashion house approached Mustafa with an offer which he didn’t reply to. It was only when a close friend told him about the importance and rich history of the brand that he backtracked and followed through with a one-time opportunity that will be remembered for centuries.
To indwell into the life and story of Mustafa the Poet, this would take us to his first official music project ‘When Smoke Rises’. Released in 2021, it was instantly well-received by critics and fell in awe to those who could relate to the message. The body of work included pioneers such as Frank Dukes, James Blake, Jamie xx and only credited feature Sampha. In this chapter of Mustafa’s career, the soft-spoken singer was potentially facing prison time and due to the encouragement of peers and close friends, he finally took upon himself to build a name in music of his own.
As his first solo imprint in the music world, Mustafa could have gone with the approach of celebration for all of the accomplishments he obtained and the success story he became, coming from humble beginnings. Instead, he chose to bring light to the individuals that could not make it to the top with him however, who made him the man we know and adore today. ‘When Smoke Rises’ is a musical interpretation of Mustafa’s grief and tribulations that, arguably for many years, could not begin healing. On track ‘Ali’ for example, the Toronto-born artist makes mention of a childhood friend who lost his life at a very young age, the void it left in Mustafa’s life and how much of a role it played in shaping the man and artist he has grown into today. As I mentioned before, the folks singer grew up in a rough neighbourhood, where Mustafa unfortunately faced losses of some of his dearest friends like the late Smoke Dawg, another rising artist from his town who was murdered from gang violence.
Another key element to the essence of this project is Mustafa’s religious faith. In the song ‘Air Forces’ for example, Mustafa explained in an interview that one can hear prayers from women chanting as their soldiers were leaving for war. This was followed by a live performance with COLOR STUDIOS, in which Mustafa spoke a prayer before embarking into soft singing. It is evident that faith roams at the centre of Mustafa’s message and as time went by, it served him both as a tool to help Mustafa walk through difficult times, but also, one of the reasons he was able to become as successful as he is and find his own space in an overly-polarised industry.
Generally speaking, Mustafa the poet has the potential of becoming the most influential artist of our time. Just under a single project, he has already proven to the world that his purpose in this music space is not only to shift the current state of senseless approaches, but also, to challenge the narratives of how a black musician may be portrayed and which type of messages they are allowed to share. For the longest, black artists from government estates have been encouraged to sing and rap about violence, drugs and sexual relations. Mustafa urges a new light and voice to those often dismissed and only praised whenever they are spreading more hatred and negativity to each other.
In Mustafa’s music, you can find a space for grieving, as much as you can reinforce your faith. You can venture into messages of reliance and community-building, as much as you can just enjoy his soft folks singing and simple melodic production. There’s no telling where Mustafa will take his journey next, but we can rest assured that he will continue to bring purity to our ears at a time much needed.