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ZAG, real name Amr Awwad, is a hip-hop artist, poet, and DJ originally from Zagazig, Egypt. He uses music to give uplift and bring hope to his people back home and to all those in the diaspora. Here he is to talk about his new song series , Prisoner Pt. 1 & 2

Tell us about your song. What inspired you? How do you hope listeners will receive your messages?
The track was partly inspired by Arabian Knightz' song, Prisoner, which is also about the Egyptian revolution. The Prisoner series tells a story of the Egyptian people's fight for freedom and democracy. It takes place during the events of the Jan 25th Revolution in 2011 that ousted a dictator of 30 years, till our current day where we have another dictator in office. I believe that the revolution hasn't ended, even though it's been 8 years, because the corruption and oppression are still the same. I wrote this song to tell my people's story of resistance for those who might not know about us; to put Zagazig and Egypt on the map. I also wrote this to be a voice for my friends back home who can't talk about these things themselves due to government media censorship.

What was one of your first experiences with music that made you want become a creator instead of just a listener?
It's actually a pretty funny story: I've always been a Hip-Hop listener since I was a kid; it's always been my favorite genre. I used to write poetry as a pastime, inspired by music that I would listen to. I always knew I had a thing for performing and putting myself out there since I was a kid, as I would always practice rapping my favorite songs in front of the mirror to show off my "skills" to my friends. But one day a friend of mine told me that he didn’t think I could ever write my own music, that I could only copy others. I took it as a challenge, and lo and behold, I wrote my first song, titled "Run The Game”, at age 12. Looking back, it was very corny, but a decent effort given it's my first song.

(How) has Totem Star helped shape you as person and as an artist? How have your other communities (family, friends, country, city, etc) shaped you in those same ways?
Ever since I moved to Seattle from Zagazig 4 years ago, Totem Star has always, undeniably, been the best part of me living here. Coming alone without my family, I always came to the studio to feel homey. And I'm very grateful for everyone at the studio for making me feel welcomed. In Egypt, we're taught that family is very important, and I'm glad that in Totem Star we have those same values. As an artist, Pak, Thaddeus, and Paul always pushed us to try new things; working with other people and making our own beats instead of ripping them from Youtube. That's how I ended up producing the Prisoner series with them. Without Totem Star I'd probably still be performing in front of my mirror for the most part, instead of getting stage time that's much needed for artists like me.

Mirabai Kukathas