By Farah Refaey, November 2 2020—
Noha Mohamed is the host of Red FM’s Calgary Arabia, a radio show entirely in Arabic that is centered around Arab culture, art and music.
Mohamed’s number one priority is connection, and she hopes that her show will become a hub for a community of Arab artists and art-lovers — a place to inspire and get inspired. Calgary Arabia is not like traditional Arab radio shows, but it’s also not like the typical Canadian radio show. It is a unique blend of both cultures, just like the diverse Canadian-Arab community in Calgary.
“I consider us a hybrid community,” said Mohamed in an interview with the Gauntlet. “We are not fully Arab, but we are not fully Canadian, either… I can’t put a typical CBC show on because it is not made for a Canadian-Arab audience. Nothing is made for a Canadian-Arab audience.”
Belonging to a minority group with a rich and diverse cultural history becomes difficult in a country where there is pressure to be anything but the “other.” Arabs have to choose how to publicly present their culture for the sake of how they are seen. Being a minority means that you not only represent yourself, but every other individual belonging to the same group. Mohamed’s advice for young creatives in Calgary who are torn between centering their work around their culture and appealing to the mainstream is “if you take ownership of [your] stories and do something that feels authentic to you, there is an audience for that.”
When Mohamed first started her radio show there was no one in the field that could guide her. This is why she feels it is important to pursue creative aspirations even if you don’t see yourself represented in your field. Today, with a successful radio show under her belt, she hopes to be that guiding figure and representation for young creatives.
Currently, Arab representation in the media is either nonexistent or it is hateful and discriminatory. Either way, it is almost always through a Western lens. Egypt is the setting for many successful Hollywood movies, all of which were made without any Egyptian or Arab cast, crew, writers or directors. Gal Gadot was recently cast to play Cleopatra in the newest movie about the Egyptian queen, following in the footsteps of Elizabeth Taylor, another non-Egyptian actress. This casting is disappointing to many Egyptians as there are countless Egyptian actresses (or Greek or Macedonian actresses for added historical accuracy) who are waiting for an opportunity like this one.
“It’s an Egyptian story. It’s an Egyptian queen’s story. It belongs to you and I,” said Mohamed.
Arab stories in mainstream media are rarely told by Arabs. They have no say in the way they are represented in film and media, which is evident as most people in Canada don’t know much about Arab culture, and what they do know is tainted by a racist media narrative.
“It’s scary,” Mohamed says. “This [misrepresentation] comes with side effects like orientalism and the vilification of Arabs.”
The emphasis is on ownership. The power of narrative should be given to Arab writers and filmmakers. Arabs should tell Arab stories. The impact of Calgary Arabia — a show made entirely by Arabs, with Arabs, for Arabs — stems beyond Mohamed or any individual. It is changing the way we view the media we consume.
“Most of [the listeners] are engineers, doctors, lawyers, or whatever, and then on the side, they have some kind of passion, and that’s what I’m looking for,” said Mohamed.
She seeks to create a space where the way Arabs are represented in the media, politics and economics can be left at the door to allow for deeper connections over art and culture, or as Mohamed calls it, “the human story.”
It is incredible to be able to turn the radio on in Calgary, Alberta and hear Arabic being spoken and Arab songs playing. For a recent immigrant, this could be the difference between feeling a sense of belonging and feeling alone. To be able to have something familiar in an entirely unfamiliar setting is a huge comfort. To Mohamed, there is no greater compliment than being told her show feels like home.
Tune in to Calgary Arabia on Red FM 106.7 every Thursday from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m..
If you are an Arab musician, contact Mohamed to have your songs featured in Calgary Arabia at email@example.com.
This column is a part of our Voices section.