By Jennifer Fong
Being humble and soft-spoken are two rare qualities in the rap world today, but they are among the first things you notice about up and coming rapper Arabesque, also known as Aramaic.
Arabesque, 22, whose real name is Steve Kawalit, is a fourth-year graphic communications management student at Ryerson.
If his name sounds familiar, it may be because you’ve already heard his first single, ‘Choked Up,’ which is in regular rotation on Toronto’s Flow 93.5 FM.
Arabesque delves deeply into his personal feelings on the album, inspired by his Middle Eastern descent and the loss of his girlfriend to a fatal car accident two years ago. The lyrics to ‘Choked Up’ are genuine, and that’s what Arabesque thinks makes it work.
“When you open up and really talk about the problems that you go through, a lot of people can relate to that. That’s what people want to hear,” he said.
“A lot of people have lost loved ones and they want to hear it in that format. It’s not poetry and it’s not pop music, it’s in between.”
Arabesque first fell in love with music, in the third grade, when his cousins introduced him to Public Enemy.
While other kids growing up with him in Mississauga played sports in their free time, Arabesque was jamming to the beats of De La Soul and X-Clan.
He was moved by the powerful messages these artists brought to life, and he decided to be a part of it.
“When it comes down to message and freedom fighting, rap gets you amped; it gets your brain thinking,” he said. Arabesque has been rapping since he was 11, but his first live performance was when he was 16-years-old.He was part of an aspiring hip-hop group called Babylon Point.
“I was so nervous; my knees were gonna buckle,” he said. The group fell apart, but this early exposure to music gave Arabesque the confidence he needed to develop his own stlye.
Two years ago, Arabesque met his new manager and his solo career took off. His first release was a seven-inch vinyl single called “The Reason,” released by Revolution Records last summer.
The song got airplay across North America, Europe and Asia.
These days, Arabesque is getting used to signing autographs when he’s walking down Yonge Street and hearing his song on the radio.
“The first time I heard it, I couldn’t believe it. It’s messed up when you hear your song next to Justin Timberlake or Jay-Z,” he said.
Arabesque said his name reflects his pride in his ethnicity. He says it’s hard being an Arab rapper, even in a multicultural city like Toronto.
“Being Arab in entertainment is like hell. It’s almost like a glass ceiling that’s held over you if you’re of Middle Eastern descent in the entertainment industry. Labels tend to stray away from the deal when they find out what my nationality is,” he said.
Still, Arabesque says the recent success he’s found on the radio is a good start.
“Me being Middle Eastern and being on commercial radio is a big deal,” he said. “It rarely happens, so I’m opening some doors for some cats I think.”