The deeply musical, humble and poetic world of Mustafa Ahmed, formally known as Mustafa the Poet, begs audiences to reflect on bias, envy and love. Mustafa is a Sudanese-Canadian poet, singer, songwriter, and filmmaker from Toronto, Ontario. His music and lyricism are love letters to his neighbourhood of Regent Park and its people. Mustafa’s folk-pop sound is full of altruistic prose of inclusivity, peace and justice. His music is also deeply rooted in Sudanese culture and Islam, in which he speaks to the resilience of his community and how faith and strength go hand in hand. 

From his tender lyrics, “Put down the bottle, tell me your sorrows, I care about you fam,” in Stay Alive to the thought-provoking, “Just stay inside tonight, you know what’s happening outside,” in Air Forces, Mustafa’s lyricism embodies the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and Reduced Inequities. 

Mustafa was born in Toronto and raised in Regent Park, one of the city's first-ever public housing projects. According to the Toronto Ward Museum, the neighbourhood was stigmatized due to the area’s residents being made up of mostly immigrants. Regent Park and its residents had a negative reputation and “perception of being dangerous,” compared to the rest of the city.

Mustafa was first recognized in a 2009 Toronto Star article at the age of twelve. His spoken word poem, A Single Rose, captured the attention and hearts of audiences to the point of making “adults cry,” explains reporter Daniel Dale. Young Mustafa wrote A Single Rose about Regent Park and the injustices his community has faced. “Picture this, a single rose in a run-down park,” says 12-year-old Mustafa in a Toronto Star clip, “I’m willing to understand, what’s yours? Don’t let me be a single rose in this run-down park.”  

Mustafa for Dazed. Photo by Paolo Roversi. Image Courtesy of Dazed.

Now at the age of twenty-seven, Mustafa has one album, When the Smoke Rises (2021) and multiple singles. His newest one is Name of God, a soft-spoken guitar melody full of powerful messages of peace. In the music video directed by Mustafa, he dances with the members of his mosque, in a living room surrounded by warm atmospheric light. In contrast to this, the next scene shows Mustafa is in a dark-lit kitchen held at knife and gunpoint. He sings, “Whose lord are you naming? When you start to break things? It’s my only life you hold.” His harrowing and thought-provoking words reflect on the violence that weighs on the city of Toronto and the pain it perpetuates in turn. Mustafa’s brother, Mohamed Ahmed, was murdered in 2023 in “the community, I gave my life to,” says Mohamed in an Instagram post. Mustafa calls on audiences to consider the repercussions of hate and envy, “Knowing the suspected murderer was someone he held as a friend, someone he prayed with,” says Mustafa in an interview with Dazed, “Maybe ending in love is the only way to actually begin?” 

One of the more powerful scenes is of Mustafa on the back of a motorcycle dressed in a white thoub or thobe, which is a traditional Muslim garment. The flag of Sudan is tied around his shoulders and his hands are raised in a hugging position almost to say, “I come in peace,” and his eyes face the sky as if praising God. 

A still from Name of God, 2023 directed by Mustafa Ahmed. Image courtesy of Mustafa’s YouTube.

On the 2021 album, When the Smoke Rises, Mustafa writes multiple songs about death, prejudice and love. Ali focuses on the life and murder of Mustafa’s best friend, Ali Rizeig who was killed at the age of eighteen in Regent Park. In the music video for Ali directed by Mustafa, a group of men gather outside the community housing playground, reflecting on Ali’s young life and the impact his murder had on the Black Muslim community. One by one, each member begins to fade away until it is only Mustafa alone in the playground. He is seen crying in another scene, sharing his willingness to be emotional with his audience. He sings "Concrete dreams, I could never leave," referring to his life and reality in Toronto. The music video ends with a crowd in a vigil, holding and lighting candles. They look away from the camera beckoning audiences to feel the weight of their loss. The song concludes with a young boy speaking, “Started off as nothing and became something. No, I don't wanna get pushed around.” Mustafa explains in his Q with Tom Power interview  that many people do not have the resources available to them to seek help or find refuge, “There is this hierarchy in grieving in who gets to grieve,” says Mustafa, “Young Black children in the inner city are not granted childhood or youth.”

Ali (2021) directed by Mustafa Ahmed. Image courtesy of Mustafa’s YouTube.

To Mustafa, preservation of love is much more important than revenge.“I can embody love”, he says in a Genius Interview; “If you’re anticipating conflict and anticipating violence, [then] you’re living in a war.”  He also explains that the goal behind his songs is to bring awareness to the reality of trauma and being a victim. “When you are a young person in the hood, you are led to believe it begins and ends there,” explains Mustafa in the interview. “Your dreams and hopes fall to the sidelines.” Mustafa’s music reminds listeners that they are more than tragedies. His music symbolizes the hope, love and resilience his community commands when facing adversity. 

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