Having fled the civil war in Mozambique with his parents when he was 2, Mohammed Yahya and his family faced daily racism and discrimination, whilst squatting in a block of abandoned flats in Lisbon. After his parents divorced, he moved to London with his father at the age of 10.
Inspired by his singer father, Mohammed channelled his thoughts, emotions and experiences through music and poetry, in particular hip-hop. As a Muslim, he encourages communities to engage with each other, to create spaces for compassion and understanding and overcome the barriers of religion, ethnicity and nationality. Yahya created the first Muslim/Jewish Hip Hop collective in the UK and is a founding member of the Peace by Piece initiative, which brings together Jewish and Muslim teenagers to discuss identity, stereotypes and religion. In 2018, Yahya was amongst 21 young leaders to be recognised at the Interfaith Awards.
Yahya’s song tackle issues of racism, migration, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the refugee experience amongst other things. Through the charity Music Action International, Yahya works with school children to create empathy for the situation of refugees and encourages traumatised teenage asylum seekers to put their stories into poetry. His positive artistic activism has been featured on the BBC, Islam Channel, Channel 5 news, Channel U and Peace TV as well as being highlighted in publications such as: The Times, Hip Hop Connection, Emel, Platform magazine and New Nation newspaper.
Yahya’s music has been played across the world and he has been invited to perform in England, Scotland, Morocco, Mozambique, Norway and Sweden. He is also half of a duo called Native Sun, with a singer and artist Sarina Leah.
Counterpoints Arts has presented Yahya’s music at a number of Refugee Week events including at London KOKO, where Yahya and Leah performed with London based rapper Lowkey and Palestinian hip hop duo EbsilJaz.
In 2019 Yahya was commissioned to work with a Kent based artist Oliver Seager on a series of workshops with a group of young people supported by Pie Factory Music (Ramsgate) and Music for Change (Margate). The PRSF Foundation funded project, titled Music for Social Change, engaged a diverse group of young people in skill-sharing around lyric writing, music production and performance. Added to that, the group produced a 7-track EP, Feeling Lost Can’t Find It is below. The rest of the EP can be found on Counterpoints Arts website.
Yahya’s latest track and video are titled ‘Battle My Demons’, video produced in collaboration with CedarGen Production in association with Lewi London Films.
Yahya says: ‘This song was inspired by the complexities surrounding the internal battles many face daily against depression, mental health & drug addiction whilst trying to conceal it from the world and still function in society.’
The civil war in Mozambique lasted from 1977 to 1992, with an estimated one million people dying during the conflict in a country, which in 1990 had a population of 14 million. At the time, the civil war was perceived as a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the US, with one side receiving aid and support from the Soviet Union, France and the UK, whilst the other side got aid from South Africa, Kenya and covertly from the US.
The conflict caused the death of hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans due to famine and resulted in the destruction of the country’s infrastructure and forced recruitment of civilians into the army, including children.
Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 election pledge to further restrict immigration to Britain resulted in the British Nationality Act (2) of 1981. The Act sharply delineated eligibility for British citizenship, by stipulating that claimants were required to demonstrate a close connection to the UK through birth or parental lineage. While the Dublin convention in 1990 initiated the future process of free movement of European citizens, a concurrent shift steered the focus of immigration policy towards addressing the laws surrounding refugees and asylum seekers.
The fall of the Berlin wall and an increase in asylum applications through the 1990s, due to people fleeing wars, led to the toughening of distinctions between ‘refugee’, ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘economic migrant’ – categories which entailed different rights to remain, to access welfare and to work. The scaling back of the welfare system and racial riots in 80s and 90s UK ultimately impacted the support accessible to refugees and asylum seekers, as well as feeding into a racist narrative against them.