When he was 12, the Toronto singer-songwriter Mustafa Ahmed emerged as “Mustafa the Poet,” writing heartfelt spoken-word pieces about the issues facing his city’s Black Muslim community. He went on to co-found the Canadian hip-hop collective Halal Gang, direct the short documentary Remember Me, Toronto, and join the Prime Minister’s Youth Advisory Council. He’s been highlighted as an artist to watch by Pitchfork, Complex, and i-D for his acclaimed new folk album, When Smoke Rises, which he’s dedicated to “the grace of the friends that he lost” to gun violence. Built on crooning vocals, nylon-string guitar, and atmospheric beats, the album features production from Frank Dukes, James Blake, and Jamie xx, and guest songwriting from Sampha.


Mustafa recently shared a list of films he loves, all gateways into the poetry of cinema.

SECRET OF THE GRAIN, Abdellatif Kechiche, 2007

Bold, gratifying. A journey that never fails to display the wonder and legerity of the mundane. It captures so well what it feels like to be back home, in my life it was Sudan, where every store run felt like a ceremony. Abdellatif holds these long shots which my friend says is almost to the exhaustion of his audience, but the longer he holds—if you allow it, the meaning of the shot can transform entirely.

HONEYLAND, Tamara Kotevska & Ljubomir Stefanov, 2019

This transcends form, it’s a portal. How a woman’s little life can be majestic and at the center, yet also tucked into nothingness, is a testament to how these directors take us to whatever place they desire, from Nazife’s conversation with her mother about the world she’ll never see, to a magic language with bees that we can only be grateful to bear witness to. A microcosm for socialism, the cycles of the universe, karma and destiny; all captured and structured with purpose and poetry, all captured in real time.

A SEPARATION, Asghar Farhadi, 2011

Farhadi’s ability is no secret, this suggestion feels obvious but this film carries the restraint that I live for—particularly in Muslim narratives that can feel so fantastical and trauma-driven. There’s space to breathe; the scenes are simple but you can enter them because it’s safe to do so. There’s no antagonist, you see yourself in everyone and everything, in the system and in the time spent, the actors don’t miss a second, no music as a crutch for performance. What a subtle yet close look at how socioeconomic power can dictate the way we love, and the way we separate.

THE CRANES ARE FLYING, Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957

A war is naive, a war never ends, this film feels like a seed for that never-ending. I am familiar with the remains of war and this film gently holds it, even in its tragedy. Some remains never survive, and hope is a knife.

A GRIN WITHOUT A CAT, Chris Marker, 1977

Marker has a singular ability, here he crafts a collage of a time that feels impossible to recount with any simplicity, an important look at how the prominent left of the ’60s dissolved.

LENNY COOKE, The Safdie Brothers, 2013

What can really tear you apart when being raised in the hood are the shards of fallen dreams, your own shards—those of your family, the ones that have been dancing in the air for decades, in playgrounds and graveyards. These dreams are sizeable by design, the design of the system of poverty. This film is a stark look at how close to freedom people are brought, from nothing. The question of choice, of expectation, of how quickly it dissipates, how quickly the crowd leaves.