‘French Montana’ Embraces Moroccan Heritage through Music
By: Noah Chani/Arab America Contributing Writer
Popular Moroccan-American hip-hop star Karim Kharbouch, who goes by the name ‘French Montana’, embraces his Moroccan heritage through lyrics, music videos, and charity work. The 34-year-old artist was born in the country’s capital city of Rabat, where he grew up for 13 years before his family’s emigration to the United States. His family emigrated to New York City (specifically South Bronx), and he there he learned how to speak English. As a child, Montana’s hobbies revolved around his fascination with the rap genre and a love of soccer. In fact, according to an interview from pop-culture website The Undefeated, his passion for the sport seemed to have led him to the world beyond the streets of Morocco. Specifically, it was on a soccer trip to Spain that he realized his need to go to the U.S to pursue his ambitious dreams in music. And that is just what he did.
Montana wasted no time when settling into the New York City hip-hop scene after moving to America in 1997. By the age of 23, he released his debut mixtape, titled French Revolution Vol. 1, and has since compiled a discography that boasts 19 mixtapes, 11 singles, 32 music videos, 39 features, and most notably, two full-length studio albums. After years of polishing his craft, Montana created a Gold Certified album and a 2017 single titled “Unforgettable”, a song which found itself in third place on America’s “Billboard Hot 100 List”.
Regarding his heritage, Montana often finds ways to reference his childhood in Morocco. He is also known for wearing traditional garments to mainstream fashion events such as the 2019 Met Gala, which was held on the first day of Ramadan. His choice of wearing the traditional clothing turned heads and called attention to Arab culture in the United States. Some people thought that his choice went against the Met Gala’s theme of “Camp: Notes on Fashion”, but many others praised him for representing his culture, especially on the first night of Ramadan.
When not making music, Montana is very active with charity work, particularly for a partner-program with Global Citizen, a group aiming to provide health care for new moms and babies in Uganda. He has also donated to the Mama Hope organization. His “Unforgettable Health Care Campaign” has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cause, including a generous $200,000 donation from the music mogul known as “Diddy”. In addition, part of the proceeds from the song “Unforgettable” goes to the Suubi Center in Uganda, another underfunded maternity and children’s health clinic. This desire to help stems from his belief in everyone’s right to access health-care, not just the wealthy. Back home, Montana has also aided several preschool classrooms by providing supplies and maintaining the infrastructure. He often recalls how hard it was for him and his peers to get a good education during his childhood, which is why he aspires to open schools around Morocco. Ultimately, he hopes to teach children about the vast number of career opportunities available to them, including within the music industry.
Montana filmed a music video for his single “Famous” in Morocco’s city of Chefchaouen, which showcased impressive infrastructure, blue mountainside houses, and picturesque beauty. The song itself captures a mother’s perspective on the baggage and dangers of fame. Presumably, this is how Montana’s own mother felt about his path to success in music. For instance, the lyrics state how becoming famous requires the courage to leave the safety and comfort of ‘home’, which is exactly what Montana and his family had to do.
“Famous” by French Montana shows a number of the Chefchaouen’s locals along with skyline, shots of the city, and children dancing and playing soccer. The music video illustrates the love French Montana and his country have for one another, a love that will never fade.
Montana’s devotion to his home country of Morocco, as exhibited through his music and charity work, is both encouraging and exciting to see. For those who have grown up in a situation similar to his own, French Montana serves as a wonderful inspiration. All in all, his use of music as a vehicle to give back and celebrate his heritage should be a lesson for everyone.
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