August 2017 was my inaugural experience of free, public events hosted in Durham’s Central Park as a fresh-faced resident of Durham County. I had been swiping through innumerable dating profiles to cope with the isolation of existing in a new city, while also preparing for graduate school and ravenously binge-watching HBO’s Insecure, before a blind date led me to stumble upon Laila Nur’s enchanting live performance. Nur’s banter with the audience espoused condemnations of institutional racism and gentrification, unabashed and at length, saying their artistry was an invitation to discuss issues not to avoid them.
A year later, I sat across from The Editor at Cocoa Cinnamon giddily fiddling with a handwritten list of bands I could review for Durham Beat, including a side project involving Laila called The Muslims, self-described as a “Punk band full of queer, Black/Brown moozlems & friends.” Punk, being an almost inherently political form, often still erases the narratives of POC and other marginalized groups—The Muslims adding themselves to the various outfits pushing against this problem within the genre.
“Muslim Ban,” the track that placed both of its hands on my head and grabbed me through my ears, is a monologue drum and guitar instrumentation decrying, “We’ve been through this shit before/White people and building walls, that shit won’t keep us out/ Now they want a Muslim ban/Another racist president—white people fix your shit!” The music video for “Muslim Ban” opens with a fixed shot on a burning image of Donald Trump (or “Agent Orange” per the first track on the album) cutting to a sequence that presents an arrangement of sticky notes addressing this country’s many problems. “Muslims at the Mall,” a 90-second visual shot at Southpoint Mall, shows a person head-banging in a burqa comprised of Lilly Pulitzer fabrics, accompanied by a short burst of screaming vocals, irreverent and purposeful—the video was later taken down from YouTube and uploaded at Vimeo for an alleged violation of the former’s community guidelines. The Muslims, both an album and a band, are imbued with this sort of in-your-face gravitas and having fun while doing it.
During my aforementioned conversation with The Editor, one of the last questions she asked me was what I thought of genres. “Genre” serves the utility of creating a nomenclature for accessible consumption and comprehension, but The Muslims’ genre-blending content muddies these boxes, and their sound is not intended to be neatly packaged. The discussions happening within their songs shouldn’t necessarily be easy for the listener to comprehend or engage with, but rather a conversation on difficult topics ranging from oppression, marginalization to orange presidents. The Muslims launch their tour August 30th at The Fruit in Durham, NC with four other tour dates throughout August and September.
Featured image is The Muslims album cover.