When Mo Moshiri was born, “all hell had broken loose.”
It was Iran in 1980. The Shah had just been overthrown and in the violence that followed, Moshiri’s parents became political and religious enemies of the state. At the age of three, Moshiri was a refugee. He spent the next 12 years of his life moving around the world before finally settling in Vancouver in 1995.
“Once we came to Canada and they accepted our refugee claim, it was like we finally belonged somewhere,” he said.
It was around this time that Moshiri started to get involved in hip hop. For the first time after years of being in transit and never having an identity, Moshiri found belonging in a new home and a new culture.
“I found my crew. I found people that were into it,” Moshiri said.
“At that time hip hop was literally like a secret club… If you found someone that was into it, it was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re friends for life,’ because there’s not many people that liked it. Now you wouldn’t even imagine that because hip hop’s everywhere.”
Now Moshiri is a member of Vancouver-based hip-hip collective Sweatshop Union. This week he will be one five Vancouver Island and mainland artists from diverse backgrounds taking part in the inaugural Vancouver Island University intercultural hip hop forum, being held alongside the university’s World VIU Days cultural celebration.
He will be discussing “the core elements and historical roots of hip hop” with Nanaimo’s DJ All Good on Tuesday, Nov. 7 and he will be on the Telling Your Story panel on Thursday, Nov. 9.
The week-long event was organized by VIU international education program co-ordinator Simon Schachner. When he was a student at the school, Schachner would organize hip-hip protest rallies to allow people to gather to express themselves and address serious world issues.
He designed the Hip Hip Forum to similarly provide a venue to discuss and explore identity and culture through hip hop.
“There’s always been a strong scene of socially conscious hip-hop artists and community-minded hip-hop artists,” Schachner said.
“I listen to hip hop artists from many different countries and different languages and there seems to be a commonality in that kind of activist hip hop or hip hop for social change. A lot of issues that are discussed on campus, a lot of the values of the university are, I think, spoken to through this kind of hip hop.”
Moshiri said speaking about his his connection to hip hop and its effect on him is one of his favourite subjects. He said his story is not unique; hip hop welcomes everyone.
“Honestly, the hip-hop culture kind of saved me when I was young and coming up,” Moshiri said.
“When we found the hip-hop culture at that age, at that real formative teenage age, it was kind of a godsend because it allowed us to express ourselves and find a community that we felt like we fit in because it was such a patchwork community that wasn’t homogeneous in any way. So we felt all welcome.”
WHAT’S ON… World VIU Days’ intercultural hip hop forum takes place at Vancouver Island University from Nov. 6 to 10. For a schedule of events, click here.