The curtains were closed and tears were streaming down Hussain Manawer’s face as he wrote the lyrics to ‘The White Rose’, which will be released this evening as his first recording for Virgin EMI, part of the Universal Music Group family.
The poet and One Young World Ambassador has composed the elegy to his mother (her name Nasreen is Arabic for White Rose), who passed away suddenly last August when Hussain was 26. The piece’s powerful poetry, spoken over a sparse arrangement of piano and strings, carries an emotional call to young people to respect and cherish the maternal bond.
It’s also designed as a tool to help young people deal with bereavement and Universal, the world’s largest music company, is releasing The White Rose on iTunes and Spotify as the first of a four-part sequence which Hussain describes as a ‘Grief Cycle”.
He wrote the piece one evening late last year in the company of his friend George O’Brien, a photographer, in a living room illuminated only by a mood light. Initially, the poem was a dedication to the friends who had helped him through his grieving process, but as George took photographs of Hussain writing, the work turned into an ode to his mother and the life lessons she taught him. “I cried this piece out,” he says. “I have never before been able to write something so simple but powerful.”
Hussain, who is from east London, has received support from Prince Charles for his campaigning work, which includes hosting the world’s largest mental health awareness lesson. He was signed by Universal two years ago.
He says he hopes that The White Rose will aid young people in coming to terms with the hardest challenge he has had to face. “I hope that people who have lost their mums would be able to use this piece of art as a reference point because not everyone is able to articulate how they feel into words and emotions,” he says. “I want them to watch this and say ‘That’s exactly what I feel like’. And the wider population, who haven’t been through this, can begin to understand what that person is feeling.”
Hussain admits that, even now, he has not fully come to terms with his loss. “I have had a few nightmares since my mum passed away and one last night in which I was going to call the police and file a missing person’s report because I was in such denial that she was not here - I was convinced she had just run away.”
In The White Rose, he speaks of his new sense of responsibility and his determination to maintain his home and espouse his mother’s values in the belief that she is still with him in spirit. “I feel that she is only dead when I let myself die,” he says. “They don’t go, they stay around you and inside you, they can see everything.”
Hussain’s mother was born in east London of Pakistani heritage. “She was very well-cultured and had the perfect balance of being a British citizen while maintaining her traditional values and religion,” he says. “She was never judgmental towards anybody or anything. She was my best friend and we used to talk on the phone every day. She actually used to say ‘We are business partners’.”
Hussain hopes that the poem will help young people to turn more to the love of their families and be less distracted by the allure of the streets. “If this becomes a thing where young people tag their mums on Facebook or wherever to say ‘I thought of you, I love you’, it becomes a reference point,” he says. “In this society there is so much toxicity and people are promoting false ideologies on what sex and beauty should look like, so that we forget what real love is.”
They used to laugh at my hair on my headline. Well now look who’s here on the headlines. My latest project The White Rose is out tomorrow at 9am. X pic.twitter.com/RpnjnS7ipA— Hussain Manawer (@HussainsHouse) May 8, 2018
The White Rose ends on the message “Cry and get over it”, a valued piece of advice from his mother, who lost her own parents at a young age. “She told me already what to do. She told me to ‘Cry and get over it.’ There’s so much comfort to me in that.”
The track is produced by Chuks Chiejine and features Debbie Aramide on backing vocals. The accompanying video features four mothers of Hussain’s friends.
While Hussain was crying when he wrote this piece he hopes that he can bring a new sense of inspiration and hope to an issue that most find difficult to address. “Because people don’t talk about dying it becomes a really dark subject when really there is a lot of light in it.”
Check out Hussain's perfomance at the OYW 2016 Summit in Ottawa, Canada: