Today I release “Jihad Love Squad,” although I’m not sure how it will be received, and it may cause some waves of controversy. I want to share an explanation of what motivated me to write this song and video and some of the struggle and thought process that has gone into finishing and releasing it.
I’ve been really interested in the polarization of the West and the world of Islam. I think it’s one of the more terrible and fascinating societal currents taking place in our world right now. One of the ways that I like to learn about a culture that’s foreign to me is through its music. On this N.A.S.A. album I’ve been digging into the music from the part of the world where Islam is most prevalent. Before a few years ago, the music of North Africa, The Middle East, and Asia Minor was not something that I knew much about.
Music often comes from a more intuitive place rather than a logical one. In hindsight, I feel like the impetus for writing "Jihad Love Squad" came from being tired of having this image of a Muslim as a SUICIDE BOMBING TERRORIST drilled into my head by the Western media. Whether it’s the film industry, television, or the news, here in the West, a vast majority of the information we receive about Muslims is negative and violent.
Much like what happened here in the Cold War with Communism, I think that the Muslim community has become the sensationalized villains of the new millennium for Western media. Not that there aren’t violent Muslims out there, just as there are evil Christians, Jews… people from every background, ethnicity, and religion, but I do think that our media can slant Islamaphobic, tending to paint Muslims very one dimensionally, in a negative light.
Being modern, conscious people, we're used to agendas being pushed down our throats through advertising, the media, and politicians. There’s a certain amount of distrust and cynicism through which we’ve grown to view the news that we see. I’m tired of seeing Muslims in our media almost exclusively painted as violent and evil. I believe that feeling is what initially sparked the idea for “Jihad Love Squad.” We wanted to take that stereotype and flip it on its head! Kojak and I came up with the tag, and I imagined thousands of kids at a festival screaming “JIHAD LOVE SQUAD!!!” together in a feeling of oneness, brother and sisterhood, and world commUNITY that only live music can foster.
The beat and concept for the song and video all came at the same time. We wanted to do a song about a love terrorist whose heart was so full, that he was exploding love all over everyone, rather than death or hatred.
As I dug further into the video treatment, the love terrorist turned into a woman. I loved the idea of a powerful woman being the leader of her love terrorist cell. We mostly only see violent Muslim men in the media. I wanted to have a woman and children dancing. By playing with our stereotype and having a woman who seemed to be a suicide bomber dressed in traditional Muslim garb walking towards a school, I knew it would elicit a strong reaction from people. Sometimes the best way to get a strong message across is through shocking imagery.
In considering who would be the greatest voice for the song, KRS-One seemed perfect. I’ve worked with him before and I know how positive, well spoken, thoughtful, and educated he is. Also, having someone who is a Teacher with a legacy of righteousness and speaking out in an intelligent and constructive way about political issues through his music would help to give the song weight and credibility.
I sent KRS the song, and after I explained the concept, he loved it. He came through and we recorded and waxed philosophy, current affairs, history, and religion as you need to do when around him.
I decided to shoot the video in India. It’s one of the music cultures that I’ve been digging into the deepest. I've been dying to go there to record and to soak up the cultural landscape, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. It’s such a beautiful and colorful place, so rich visually… Kool Kojak (whom I wrote the track with) had suggested using the powder that they use in the Holi celebration, which ended up being a great way of making our explosions more clearly about celebration rather than death.
Shooting the video was one of most joyful, inspiring, and empowering experiences I’ve ever had. I have very little practice directing, so rolling solo to India to direct a crazy video about delicate subject matter involving choreography, explosions, and complicated camera work and not knowing a single soul on the crew was terrifying, It turned out everyone was so skilled and so passionate about the project. We had people from many of the beautiful and diverse regional and religious groups that make up the fabric of Indian society: Jews, Christians, Jains, Hindus, of course Muslims, and more, and everyone was down for the cause to make something great. And getting to hang with the Indian kids… that was the best! This video experience did nothing but to further the ethos that is central to N.A.S.A. and why I love being an artist: MUSIC AND ART BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER!
Once I got back to the US and started to edit the video is when things really started to get hard. Upon seeing the first cut, my management was very concerned. Despite having read the treatment before I went to shoot it, I don’t think they were prepared for how powerful this video would be. They were the first people to see it. I trust and value their opinions as they are both smart and thoughtful people, and I know they want the best for me. Their reaction was upsetting. After some deliberation, they told me that if I proceed with releasing the song, that they would no longer want to work with me. These are people who have been in my life since early days of N.A.S.A. I told them I wanted to keep doing research before I gave them my final decision, and they were patient with me.
I dug even further into the history of Jihad… the word and its function in Islam. It’s a word that’s really been hijacked and stigmatized by extremists. I started reading more Muslim writers and poets, and particularly digging back into the Sufis.
My biggest source of research was showing the video. I started to send it out right away to as many smart people as I could. I sent it to filmmakers and friends. I knew that people who understand what I’m about would know that the video was coming from a positive place of love and wanting to be a positive force in the world. I tried to get it in front of as many people that didn't know me as possible, especially Muslims, so I could understand the type of reaction that the song and video would get once it was out.
With a few exceptions, people’s reactions were very positive. There was one really strong negative reaction, which resulted in a couple of hours of uncomfortable phone conversation. But almost everyone liked it. The most interesting and fun thing that happened was that everyone was really into talking about it. Each time I shared it with a new person, almost every time they would call or write me multiple times wanting to talk about the video, offer their thoughts and ideas, and dig into it more. I realized that this was the best and most important part of this song and video. Clearly, from the reaction of my management and a couple of other people I had shared the video with, this is a subject that makes people very uncomfortable. It’s something that we really don’t know how to talk about. But clearly people really want to talk about it. I realized that the video was going to serve an important role in creating a discussion around Islamaphobia, Jihad, and the polarization of the world we live in.
I knew that I had to put this video out. Not only was it something that I really deeply believed in and thought was going to be a positive force in the world, but I had put so much of my soul into making it, I felt like part of me would die if it wasn’t released. I told my management I was going to release it, and they respectfully parted ways with me. I didn’t feel resentful, as their hearts were not in this, and I wouldn’t want them to be working on something they didn’t believe in, just as I wouldn’t work on something that I don’t believe in either.
Since making that decision, it’s been really fun. I’ve been spending my time reaching out to the most poignant Muslim communicators that I can, trying to engage them to learn and to understand how this will be viewed in the press, and to understand how people may be offended or want to attack me. I’ve been trying to engage several universities, as I want to go in and show the video in an academic environment to start a conversation with students about this subject. I’ve also been speaking to several Muslim Imams and organizations who love the video and want to help support it and to get the word out. This has really helped me better understand my own perceptions, and also has given me the feeling that having the support of the Muslim community will help those who may otherwise not give “Jihad Love Squad” a chance have a more open mind to receiving its positive message.
Today I put "Jihad Love Squad" out into the world. So far, it's been an amazing and humbling experience, and I've already learned so much. I don’t know if I achieved what I wanted to in the video or was able to convey a celebration of love and unity as intended. I do know that I’ve created a powerful piece of art that will definitely start some compelling conversations. I just ask you all to have an open mind.
Peace, love, and unity!
N.A.S.A. --- Sam