Iraqi-American activist and musician Stephan Said's music melds hip-hop, rock, folk and Arabic influences.
Iraqi-American activist and musician Stephan Said's music melds hip-hop, rock, folk and Arabic influences. Aaron Fedor
Iraqi-American musician Stephan Said once went by the name Stephan Smith — his mother's maiden name. He adopted it after record-label executives told him his name would stand in the way of record sales.
"I was told at major labels more than once ... 'Look, you know, we want to sign you, but of course you can't have a career in America with an Arabic name' — as though it was a joke," Said tells NPR's Neal Conan.
The decision to change his recording name never sat well with Said, who sings about social justice. After releasing the 2002 song "The Bell," which protested the buildup to the Iraq War, Said drew so much public ire that he realized having a more American-sounding name "didn't make any difference."
With his album difrent, Said reclaims his birth name and continues singing about freedom and the American dream with a blend of world, hip-hop and folk influences.
Here, Said talks with Conan about his music, the challenges of marketing songs with messages, and the organization he launched to help other activist artists get their music and their causes into the public eye.