“My alias is Vertex….but that might change soon….back to Mufeez.”
Fresh off dropping a new track called Mine, Mufeez Ul Haq, also known by the moniker Vertex, is thinking deeply about his made up name, and his real one.
Starting as a musician creating electronic dance music, or EDM, Mufeez needed a way to break in. “In the EDM scene, you’ve got to have a cool name that catches on. So I thought, let me just open up a dictionary and look up some words….and I found Vertex. I didn’t even know what it meant mathematically.”
Only later did he figure out how the name connected with him.
“Vertex means the peak of corners, I think. I was applying that to myself, that I would be the ‘peak’ of myself, how to be the Vertex of my own music production.”
Like many artists, where Mufeez started isn’t where he ended up ten years later.
“Lately I’ve gone from electronic music to music that’s more about identity and representation. So the name change, not having a ‘cool Westernised name’ also suits my change in direction, to move beyond EDM.”
“I can just be Mufeez. That’s my name. And that’s unique. There’s an ownership in that.”
Mufeez’s journey of coming into his own identity, reclaiming his name, getting beyond the genre where he started, has been a gradual stepping into self-ownership.
“I don’t think I’ve ever considered fully (until now) being myself. Being brown...was never part of myself. I’ve never thought of it like that.”
A ‘third-culture’ kid
In Dubai, where he grew up, Mufeez was surrounded by South Asians. It offered him a unique, and more familiar context.
Mufeez says the majority of people he met in Dubai were expatriates, especially South Asian people, not locals. “I never felt like I had to question my identity as a brown person because I was always around a brown person.”
“However, since coming here (to Melbourne) three years ago, that’s when I started feeling and asking, ‘Where’s my people?’”
Mufeez found people associated in Australia by their ethnicity, what country they were ‘originally’ from, and that he didn’t fully connect with that straight-line view of people.
“I felt, on the one hand, (people) were either recently arrived directly from their own country, with their own values, strongly associate with where they were coming from. On the other hand, there were first generation people who were raised over here with the completely other extreme (opposite) mentality.”
“I was somewhere between the two.”
In response to finding his place in Australia, Mufeez asked himself, “Who do I hang out with? Where is my people?”
It was then Mufeez came across the term ‘third-culture kid,’ a phrase that has been attributed to US sociologist Ruth Hill Useem. Dr Useem first used it in the 1950s to describe children who spent their early years in places that are not their parents’ homeland.
“Being in Australia and being a third-culture kid and owning up to that was really important to me as a person because if i didn’t I would always be torn between the two.”
“I realised it was ok to be in the centre, and that’s a thing and there’s a label for it. It was gratifying to me. Being away from my people made me realise the value of what I looked like, my ethnic background.”
“I’m half-Indian and half-Bengali; I’ve been to Bangladesh and seen family but haven’t been to India at all. But I learned how to read and write in Hindi; I can speak Bengali but not in Hindi.”
“I want to explore my Indian side more, my Mum’s side. I don’t want to cut out my Indian identity either.”
“I’m Muslim, but I don’t really look like a Muslim. But what does a Muslim like? Being away from a Muslim country like Dubai has allowed me to explore that part of my identity too,” says Mufeez.
Mufeez’s new song Mine is a song exploring relationships, identity and love. He came to this topic through his exploration with music, his voice, his personal relationships and his multi-layered identity.
“I’m not classically trained in music in any way, and I just started imitating styles. Like imitating a sitar when I sing.”
“I liked typical four-by-four chords. It felt centered in the moment when I sing; it felt honest.”
For the theme of his piece, Mufeez wanted to shine a light on doubts, and that it’s good to have doubts to advance any relationship and be real to who you are.
“I thought about what to write about - and my default go to, like everyone else, was to write about love.”
“I was reflecting on being in a relationship and the ups and downs that come with that.”
Originally kick-started as part of an assignment for his course, Mufeez created a “zero-budget plan” for a music video that he completed . While it's now starting take off, Mufeez didn’t create for accolades; he did it to stay true to himself.
“Like with all people, I wanted to represent myself, because representation is important.”
“This is like an introduction - from Vertex to Mufeez.”
“This video is who Mufeez is on a regular basis - I’m cooking in the video and hanging out locally in the western suburbs. It’s just normal human stuff, and I think that’s important to highlight.”
Reflecting on his identity has led Mufeez full-circle from understanding our differences as South Asians to finding our commonality across those difference.
“Yeah, we’re brown, but we’re human. We have so much in common with the rest of the world. We have special things in our lives, but we’re all the same - we have goals, not all of us like washing dishes.
“And that’s what I was trying to do: shine a light on us as human beings, even if we are brown.”
Check out the official music video of Mine
You can follow Mufeez on the Vertex Music Facebook Page
Sandeep Varma is the Founder and CEO of SAARI Collective.