It might be one of the most common names for Muslim women, but there was no Aisha to be found at a recent Mipsterz concert in a Crown Heights apartment.
Singer Basim Usmani laughed that off, making a joke that it might be the only gig in Brooklyn where that wasn’t the case. A moment later, his punk rock band The Kominas launched into their song, aptly called “Aisha” without someone special to serenade.
The band was headlining the last concert of the season for Sundays/cool, an intimate concert series hosted by members of the Mipsterz, a group of young Muslim artists who gather regularly to both collaborate and hang out. Those collaborations led to an only-in-Brooklyn event that found a cross-dressing punk band crowding onto a makeshift stage that transformed a normally quiet apartment into a secret club.
“It was a little weird,” guitarist Sunny Ali admitted of rocking out in a bedroom before a serious-looking crowd who, following South Asian tradition, carefully removed their shoes before entering. The audience then proceeded to clap and happily nod along to songs with titles like “Sharia Law in the U.S.A,” and “If You See Something, Say Something.”
Since its founding two years ago, Mipsterz “has been this collective of people from Muslim backgrounds who don’t necessarily fit into other spaces,” said Urooj Khan, one of the group’s founders. “They are creative, they are activists and they are progressive.”
The group deliberately chose a portmanteau of the words “Muslim” and “Hipster” and that description certainly fit the invite-only crowd of 20 and 30-somethings that gathered for Saturday’s show. “In New York, you have these little niches,” said Farah Shaikh, an IT professional attending her first Mipsterz event. “People find a place to feel comfortable with their identities.”
Co-founder of the concert series Yusuf Siddiquee, 27, said that’s exactly what the Mipsterz’ Sundays/cool concert is going for. “We want to push forward that we are artists too,” said Siddiquee, who works at a nonprofit by day. “There are plenty of artists in our community, but cultural or parental pressures sometimes make us cover it up.”
The Mipsterz concert series came about members after Siddiquee, Khan and their co-producers Abbas Rattani and Wissam Hamou were chatting about creating something based around the growing music scene. “I grew up in the Midwest in a small town and you don’t really have those outlets,” noted Siddiquee.
The concert series is particularly special to Siddiquee because the acts literally perform in his bedroom. “I was a little concerned about putting a punk band in a bedroom,” he said once the band’s ear-splitting set was over – it was admittedly a bit surprising none of the neighbors called 311 to complain.
Siddiquee noted that since the Sundays/cool concert series began in March, they’ve hosted acts from India, Kuwait, Iraq and across the United States.
While it’s almost impossible to be a Muslim American artist today and not be asked about the political implications of your work, co-founder Khan stressed that it’s really up to each artist to decide whether they want to have those conversations or not. “The Kominas are definitely very political,” she noted, “But we’ve had artists who have more of an apolitical stance.”
That doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of asides about the current political climate. “Sign in so that we always know where you are,” Siddiquee reminded the crowd as things were winding down. “I mean – so that we can add you to our mailing list,” he clarified.
Lakshmi Gandhi is Metro’s Social Media Manager. Follow her on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.