Mustafa Ahmed, born in Toronto, Ontario, became Mustafa The Poet when his poem “A Single Rose” earned him a standing ovation at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival back in 2009.
Before then, he had featured as a 13-year-old kid reciting a poem that oozes anguish and desperation about life in Regent on a local news show.
And when he was questioned about how he came up with such tough content, he replied, “if hearing about these things is hard, try living them.”
Mustafa Ahmed grew up in Regent Park, downtown Toronto. The neighbourhood is home to a large immigrant community struggling for decades under poverty and neglect.
It is also the oldest public housing project in Canada and had a disgruntled history of gun crime and violence. But as Mustafa has discovered, life and success from there have come with a price. Making smart decisions is the go-to.
Mustafa Ahmed, the kid from Nelson Mandela Park Public School, got recognised and identified for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Youth Advisory Council. He was also practically some sort of neighbourhood spokesperson.
But Mustafa wasn’t always so level-headed.
Long before his refined self, he was the one out there fighting and getting suspended. Then his sister introduced him to poetry.
He’s since been a full-blown poet, neighbourhood go-to in times of trouble, a songwriter (even for hire), and the entire process birthed the new Mustafa.
And now ‘Mustafa The Poet’ is Mustafa with his debut album “When Smoke Rises”, an 8-track body of work about loss featuring James Blake, Frank Dukes, Jamie xx and more.
Tracklist to ‘When Smoke Rises’ by Mustafa
1. Stay Alive
2. Air Forces
4. The Hearse
5. Capo (feat. Sampha)
7. What About Heaven
8. Come Back
On his debut project, Mustafa confronts grief and loss as he smoothly transforms his poetry to pop music without losing the truth of the narratives at its core.
He’s interacted directly with loss and grief from a very young age. Mustafa explained he was paranoid at some point in his life and often speaks about death. The 24-year-old recording artist lost his childhood friend Youssef when he was younger and performed a poem, 48 hrs later, in respect.
He’s since lost yet another friend and crew member Smoke Dawg who was shot and killed in 2018, and he got the green light to record his first project, one he had been running away from for so long.
“When Smoke Rises” is such a personal collection of songs that exhumes beauty even in heartbreak. Mustafa himself didn’t realise how personal the songs turned out to be not until he had a second listen.