Believe to Overachieve
Three brothers learn English through rap and become masters of the craft.
Photograph by Aaron Pedersen/3TEN
After a few years in Egypt on refugee status, the Fadlelmola brothers moved to Canada with their mother and two sisters in 2005. The matriarch didn’t have a job in Edmonton – or family, either – but a social worker in Egypt recommended the city to them. So that’s where they ended up, while their father stayed behind in Sudan, their homeland.
“Could you imagine, what goes through the mind of a young man forced to leave his life behind?” raps middle brother Osman, a.k.a Namso, 15, on “Sudan Story.” The song by the brothers, who go by the appropriate name, The Over Achievers (T.O.A.), is available on Jali Vol. 2, an upcoming compilation of local black artists made through a community building project, on a government grant.
Now imagine this too: Just six years ago, Namso, Muta and Mustafa (a.k.a. Moto), couldn’t even speak English, let alone rap. Well, maybe they could say “yes, hello,” concedes Muta, the oldest brother, who was 11 when they landed. But they gained knowledge of the language, and confidence, through the Tegler Youth Centre‘s hip-hop program.
They soon got the attention of Dirt Gritie, one-fourth of veteran rap group Politic Live, who took them into Music For Mavericks Inc.’s studio. “What attracted me to the group at first was how much they were like Politic Live,” remembers Gritie, their manager. Like his cousin, brother and friend with whom he formed Politic Live, the three brothers were “all in it for different reasons, willing to do their best and be open to advice. I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity.”
“Gritie helped us develop our performance,” says Moto, the afro-haired 13-year-old. “We used to have sessions every Saturday, and from [noon] to four we would do a rehearsal.”
Adds Muta, “He taught us what we need to do, how to reach the audience when you’re on stage, how you want to look at the audience when you’re on stage. Just basic things, right?”
One doesn’t have to buy a ticket to witness their exuberant performances. The music video for “Freak My Style” has garnered over 5,000 hits on YouTube, and shows the brothers rocking a party at the Tegler Youth Centre with their friends, mentors and cohorts. That energy earned them a spot on the second season of Urban Star, a hip hop and R&B talent show airing on Shaw TV.
When they auditioned for the reality show in West Edmonton Mall last July, the judges practically handed them boarding passes right there. They spent a week in Winnipeg, practising and then participating in the first round. Gritie says they had to make an early exit because their mother didn’t want them alone, and neither he nor she could get time off work to accompany them.
As well, they had an opportunity in Edmonton to open for J Cole, one of the biggest stars in hip hop. “I look up to J Cole, he’s one of my biggest influences,” says Muta. “I think we made the right decision.”
Now the brothers are working on their debut album, scheduled to come out in the summer. For the eldest brother, studio time is a special relief. “I’m the guy who doesn’t let emotions out. Rap is when I can talk a little bit more. I feel comfortable talking to a mic. The microphone just helps tell my story,” says Muta, who recently did a hip-hop workshop with ESL students, bringing his talents full circle.
Moto, though, loves the attention. With a grin, he tells of meeting fans at McDonald’s. “These girls walked up to me like, ‘Aren’t you that guy from T.O.A.?’ I said, yeah. They’re like, ‘Can we get some pictures with you?'”
“I haven’t gotten anything like that,” Muta says. “It must be the afro.”