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New Music: 'This Love Thing'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Rami Nashashibi works to make the South Side of Chicago better. He started an organization called the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, which works to get health care for those who don't have it, job training for people coming out of prison and access to fresh produce for residents who don't live near grocery stores. It's the sort of work that won him a MacArthur Fellowship in 2017. And all the while, Rami Nashashibi has also been working on his music.

RAMI NASHASHIBI: I've always tinkered with music and messed around on guitar and drums and stuff like that. And I would always be in the corner, you know, kicking it with one artist and just basking in their glory.

CHANG: Nashashibi cultivated a big musical network through arts workshops that his organization IMAN put on, and one day he worked up the nerve to send a demo to one of those musicians, a vocalist and producer in Buffalo, N.Y., named Drea D'Nur.

DREA D'NUR: My gift is that I either hear it or I don't. But when Rami sent me the music, every song that he sent me I could actually hear other sounds - like, I heard strings. I heard piano. I heard drums.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOR YOUR LOVE")

D'NUR: (Singing) My cracked earth hears (ph) and it screams for your love.

CHANG: Drea helped bring Rami's songs to life. They called on friends, like the singer Mumu Fresh and the rapper Brother Ali, and they wound up with nine tracks which come out today, an album called "This Love Thing."

NASHASHIBI: You know, there was a point where this larger exploration of multiple themes of love and the different expressions of love - love through pain, love through the pain of loss, love through the beauty and exhilaration of connection. At some point, I was in a conversation with one of the artists who appear on the track, and, you know, he had this really deep meditation on this love thing. And, you know, the title then, for me, emerged pretty clearly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAMA PLEASE")

D'NUR: (Singing) Mama, please. Mama, please.

CHANG: In one of the tracks, you can hear a councilman from Louisville, Jecorey Arthur. He appears in the song "Mama Please."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAMA PLEASE")

JECOREY ARTHUR: (Rapping) George had a mama. I think of Breonna. She could have been one - no, she should have been one. But instead of a mama, she done turned into a martyr. We never chose these parents, no. They turned me into an author. They got...

CHANG: You know, this is a song that invokes the name of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor. It also mentions border police and slavery. Tell me what this song is about.

D'NUR: I don't know. I feel like it's global and local at the same time, you know? It talks about a global struggle, wars happening all over the world, you know? And then also this war that happens, like, in every city, in every ghetto, you know, right where we are from.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAMA PLEASE")

D'NUR: (Singing) Mama, please. I can't breathe. Get these demons off of me.

NASHASHIBI: In the Muslim tradition, which is, you know, something that I'm coming out of, we have this notion that the most supreme attribute of the divine in Islam is (speaking Arabic), which means the most merciful, but it also means the womb. And so it's kind of this idea that when you're calling on your mother, you're in many ways calling on divine mercy. And, you know, whether it's the young kid at the border whose - was placed and has been in cages or it's a young Palestinian kid on the West Bank or whether it's a Black man in Minneapolis, this is a moment where I think we're all calling on divine mercy for healing, reconciliation and justice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU AIN'T THE ONE")

AMIR SULAIMAN: (Rapping) They may pretend to hate the devil. But they're really just jealous instead. They want the devil's crown. I want the devil's head. They want the devil's throne. I want the devil dead.

D'NUR: Like, Rami touched on, you know, how important the mother is in Islam.

CHANG: Yeah.

D'NUR: But the word for community in Islam is (speaking Arabic), and the word - the root word for that is (speaking Arabic), which is the mother. So for me, there's no community building without the mother.

CHANG: Well, Drea, it's very moving to hear you talk about the role of the mother in the Muslim tradition. And I have been meaning to ask you - I mean, you're a mother of five children. What has it been like to personally take in everything that's happened in the last several months? And how have you been explaining it to your five kids?

D'NUR: Well, I talk to my children about what's happening, and I listen to what my children have to say about what's happening. So it's kind of, like, nerve-wracking. Like, I remember one day my son was riding his bike, and he just took a long time to come back home, longer than usual. And I live across the street from a college, and there's campus police. And when I found him, he was talking to one of the police officers. But they were, like, laughing and deeply engaged about - in a conversation about what's happening right now. But I was like - when I got out the car, I was - I'm, like, running to him, you know?

CHANG: Right.

D'NUR: Because I just think it's just natural for me to feel that fear.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JERUSALEM")

D'NUR: (Singing) ...Of the broken man raised by broken men, who hit the floor and rose again.

CHANG: Drea D'Nur and Rami Nashashibi - their new album is called "This Love Thing." Thank you so much for sharing this time with us.

NASHASHIBI: Thank you.

D'NUR: Thank you for having us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JERUSALEM")

D'NUR: (Singing) Held captive all by the bridge. And with his finger all in the bridge (ph). Says, either me or... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.