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Woman of the Week: Jazz Kamal

Jazz Kamal’s boxing name is Jazz the Inferno, and as a musician she is known is Nari, meaning fire in Arabic. Both names define this fiery Egyptian, a woman who has the ability to create, destroy, and rise from the ashes renewed.

Kamal destroys the boundaries of what it means to be a repressed woman, and instead lives a life of truth and integrity. Her story is reminiscent of the fiery phoenix renewed, rising from the ashes stronger and ready to help others find their own light in a time of darkness. Kamal is a boxing coach and helps create a space for women to embrace their power and strength at Newsgirls, a women-only boxing studio in Toronto. She is also a profound lyricist and musician, creating political word-spins worthy of the hip hop greats.

I first encountered Kamal as a boxing coach at Newsgirls, a women’s boxing studio that runs classes and a program called Shape your Life to help women who have experienced violence. It turns out that Kamal found her passion at the boxing club two years ago. “I started boxing at Toronto Newsgirls and I hadn’t boxed anywhere else. I’ve always been a fighter but for the last two years I had gloves on,” Kamal says. “Newsgirls is a place where you don’t understand what you are there for until you still step through the doors.”

Kamal fell in love with boxing right away and wanted to make it a permanent part of her career. She began coaching and now helps run the ‘Shape your Life’ program. Before she committed to Newsgirls full-time, she was a technician for a theatre company, a job she really disliked. “My soul was drained and I didn’t see a way out,” Kamal says. “Savoy, the owner of Newsgirls, showed me all the steps to become a boxing coach. I specifically enjoy her coaching style and I told her I wanted to quit my job. It was at the point where I was crying everyday coming home from work. I didn’t want to turn 30 and still be at my job.” In May of that year, Kamal took a leap, quit her job and moved to Newsgirls full-time.

Kamal is also a musician and is a lead emcee/rapper of the group, Phatback, a soul and hip hop group that discusses important political issues. “The idea of the band was born just before I started boxing,” Kamal says. “I’m the lead MC and the lead singer is also a queer woman of colour. We are dedicated to making music that uplifts and our stuff is pretty political.” Phatback is starting a monthly residency in February 2017 every last thursday of the month at The Burdock (1184 Bloor St. W.).

Along with being a lead emcee of a band, Kamal is also a spoken word artist and independent musician going by the name Nari. Her early music reflects a lot about her journey coming out in the LGBTQ community. “I was a late bloomer when I accepted myself as a queer person. Coming from a country where it is very rough for gays in Egypt, I am definitely in danger if the wrong people find out. People go to jail for that,” Kamal says. “Not that North America is the beacon for LGBTQ, I am still allowed to live with my wife in a house we own here.”

Kamal’s journey to accepting herself has not been easy and she has overcome great struggle in order to reach a happier place in her life. “I was going to commit suicide, and I tried twice. My sister walked in and I didn’t want her to see. That ignited something in me that said how are external factors in my brain telling me I have to commit suicide? The answer isn’t to just end it. I had a difficult 10 years ahead of me, but I am able to deal with them differently,” Kamal says. “It doesn’t feel like the end of the world anymore. I have more ammunition, and more energy. I’ve gone to a lot of schools and talked about it.  Without fail, a kid will reach out to me and say it is good to see a queer Egyptian woman being loud and proud about who she is.”

Kamal strongly believes in helping others and nurturing people through their own personal journeys. Her courage and confidence is incredibly moving. She also shared her story in the 2011 PFLAG campaign and speaks to kids at schools advocating for the LGBTQ community. Furthermore, Kamal speaks up about domestic abuse in same-sex partnerships and violence against women.  “Some people didn’t believe I could be in an abusive relationship with another woman. It was psychological warfare and it took me a year and seven months for me to say no,” Kamal says. “I have learned to separate aggression from violence. Aggression is being able to push forward when someone is trying to push you back. Violence can happen without someone even touching you, they can break you down psychologically. You always have a choice, get mad.”

Kamal brings so much passion to her boxing classes and helps many women lift themselves out of the damaging and debilitating world of abuse. Kamal teaches women how to get angry and embrace their strength as a form of empowerment. “My advice to any woman is if you are mad, get angry. Anger is temporary,” Kamal says. “It is much easier than to repress it for years and years. Otherwise, it will turn into violence against yourself.”

Kamal changes lives everyday with her confidence, her comedic skills in the middle of boxing session, and her absolute selflessness when it comes to helping others. Above all else though, I would say the most inspiring lesson that Kamal represents is how far you can go as woman and a passionate person if you refuse to back down. Through her journey in accepting herself as queer person, Kamal faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles and fought hard to live honestly by who she is inside. She didn’t stay in an abusive relationship, and she didn’t stay in a crappy job. She found her passion, and strived towards becoming a person who helps others. Furthermore, she finds peace and power in teaching others to do the same. Whether in the ring or out on the street, Jazz has taught me to have your arms ready and never back down, and to the fight for what you love in this crazy and beautiful life.