The last couple years have kept Jamil Suleman busy. He had a viral hit with his ode to healthy, affordable dinner, went on his first tour, and established his Indie Genius media company. He also took his “Jesus H Christ” character mainstream.
We caught up with the South Seattle artist and community organizer and chopped it up about his upcoming event Josh Day: A Community Celebration, his now infamous alter ego and his concept tour, Graffiti Village.
When apostle Paul wrote “be imitators of Christ,” you took it quite literally, didn’t you? Tell us about your alter-ego, Jesus H. Christ.
Right. The Jesus Piece project came about when Julie C, a local emcee, organizer, and friend of mine, was hosting the “CHURCH” event at Black Coffee Co-op. I was invited to perform a set for the release of my mixtape, CATS, and with my hair out, I kind of resembled the man in question. Being of mixed Indian/Middle East descent (basically), I thought it was even more appropriate. I dawned the costume and the rest was history. I held it in the background for a while, but when things were heating up between the Seattle City Council and the Block the Bunker Coalition — who were looking to divest our tax money from community programs into a new police station — I thought it was time to bring back the Jesus.
What does the ‘H’ in the name stand for?
It’s whatever you want it to be. I get ‘Harold’ a lot (shout out to the purple crayon). ‘Hussein’ was a popular one for a while. I personally like ‘Harambe’ for obvious reasons.
How far are you willing to go in this imitation of Christ? You willing to die for my sins?
No. Not that far.
Tell us about Josh day, its purpose as well as who “Josh” is…
Josh Day started with the idea that I would dress up like Jesus and hand out fish sandwiches on Christmas for “my birthday.” Now we have a fully functioning team of community members planning an amazing donation based event right here in South Seattle with the intention of feeding those in need. It’s amazing, like, something the real Jesus would do. And everyone is getting involved, of all backgrounds. It’s Beautiful.
For the background on the whole “Josh” thing, I wanted to bring the man, Jesus, down to Earth. It wasn’t enough that I just looked like the stereotype depiction with a tan and snarky attitude. So I did some research. I found out that his actual name was ‘Yeshua,’ which would be pronounced as “Joshua” today… i.e. Josh. And naming the character “Josh” normalizes him to me. Like, we all know a Josh, I grew up with one. Awesome guy. Shout out to Josh.
I’m glad the idea grew into the Josh event, seeing as how fish sandwiches don’t keep well. Whose performing on Josh Day?
We have a SICK line-up for this event, both music and comedy: hip hop from Peace & Red Velvet, Julie C and CALL, comedians Brett Hamil and Mauricio, spoken word with Nikkita Oliver, and more being added. Jennifer Moore is going to handle the sound and she’s a certified sound healer. The best part is that folks are coming together and doing this for free, for the community. We’re coming together and we’re proving we have what it takes to take care of each other. We can be sustainable. We can have each other’s backs.
I’ve never heard of a tour quite like the one you went on in Summer 2016. What was the theme and motivation behind it?
The idea behind the Graffiti Village Tour was to leverage all these connects we had as artists, writers, speakers, activists, and travelers. It was an amazing opportunity to create some synergy around the topics of youth justice, indigenous rights, sustainability, and community empowerment. I’m super pumped to share this stuff with folks. It’s an ongoing, ‘life work’ – type of a project.
And there’s a video series of the tour: GVT60?
#GVT60 started as a teaser for our footage from the Graffiti Village Tour earlier this year when we caravanned it through the Western region of the country and performed, spoke, camped and learned about community empowerment. To show solidarity with Standing Rock, we decided to show a sixty second clip each day for sixty days, the length of our tour. It’s a dope glimpse into life on the road, from camping in Yellowstone, to rapping in Venice. You can check it out on the Indie Genius Media Facebook page and YouTube Account. (www.facebook.com/indiegeniusmedia)
Most memorable public reaction from your Jesus H Christ character?
By far, it’s putting a smile on people’s faces. Especially people who might not like me in “real life.” Like, what is “real life” at this point, anyway? I’m walking around looking like the most famous man in history, a man famous for healing the sick and feeding the poor, while watching a world destroy itself. It’s rather bizarre, but when I play Jesus, or should I say Josh, it all goes away. People, for the most part, turn into innocent little children. I guess they’re getting ready to enter the kingdom.
You can find more of Jamil Suleman’s work at www.jamilsuleman.com and FB/TW/INstagram: @jamilsuleman