Diaspo #117 : Ish Ait Hamou, when writing becomes a journey of self-discovery

Ismail Ait Hamou is a former dancer and choreographer who was born in Belgium to Moroccan parents. After a long and successful dancing career, he became a novelist, telling the story of the two cultures he grew up with.

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Ismail Ait Hamou, a dancer and novelist in Belgium. / Ph. DR

Ish Ait Hamou had it all career wise. From a successful dancer to a choreographer, TV host and skillful storyteller. But everything he did was part of his journey of self-discovery, an attempt to answer questions about these two cultures he grew up with and to see beauty in each one of them.

Ish, or Ismail, grew up in Belgium, in a small town near Brussels. He was the youngest of his two brothers and sister. His parents came from Morocco to provide a better future for their children.

His childhood was a busy one, filled with activities that included football, basketball and dancing, which stuck with him for a while. «By the age of twelve, I was introduced to dancing, a nice activity that I did during the weekends with friends», he recalled.

A dancer, choreographer and TV host

While not intending at first to stick with it for a long time, Ish ended up taking dancing seriously. «I really liked dancing, mostly because I was with my friends (…) it was one of the things that kept us together», he told Yabiladi.

But things got serious when he turned 18. After studying for a year in the United States, the young man returned to Belgium, where dancing took a professional turn in his life. «I finished school and did not go to the university in order to dedicate all my time to dancing», Ish said.

Indeed, the young man embarked on his new career, dancing with a crew and working on his own. In 2005, his name rose to fame in the dancing community when he was hired by German design company Adidas to choreograph one of their live performances.

For there on, Ish started working with TV channels, producers, brands and artists. While dancing and choreographing, Ismail made his own dance shows, worked as a creative director, and was chosen as a judge for a famous television dancing show.

Ish the storyteller

While his dancing career was flourishing, the young Moroccan-Belgian decided to switch. Although, the career shift was not sudden, Ish stopped dancing to fulfill a childhood dream that he kept in the back of his mind for years.

In 2007, he decided to write his first book, moving from dancing to storytelling, a hidden talent that he had for years. «I have always loved writing and throughout the years I was working on a story that I published later», recalled Ismail.

A scene from the short movie based on Ish Ait Hamou's novel Klem. / Ph. DRA scene from the short movie based on Ish Ait Hamou's novel Klem. / Ph. DR

Ismail now has four books, each one of them has a different and unique story to tell. While the first story of his first book is taking place in the United States, the one featured in his second book is about Gibril, a Moroccan boy from the south of Morocco, who starts a journey to Europe.  

«To write this book, I went with my father for the first time to his village» near Tata, in the south of Morocco, he said. «We made a long journey from Belgium to his village but it was inspiring to hear my father’s story and see where he grew up», Ish stated.

Ish's book about Morocco was a success in Belgium, particularly with the Flemish audience who had a chance to discover how it felt to be Moroccan and an immigrant. To him, however, writing is all about that : discovering the two worlds he has been brought into.

«One of the reasons I wanted to invest in writing is that it allows me to address ideas, issues and values and touch upon things that certain art platforms cannot do», he explained. To the storyteller, writing has enabled him to discover who he really was and «understand the two cultures» he has access to.

Ish during his theater show performance. / Ph. DRIsh during his theater show performance. / Ph. DR

Now, Ish is working on his fifth book that would also be about Morocco. But meanwhile, he has been touring with his own theater show «Nice to Meet You My Name is Ish». The latter combines his stories, music and dancing. «It is a two-hour long show, during which I tell my experiences and stories and how it worked for me», he said.

His performance includes also musicians and a dancer that accompany his storytelling. The show, which touches upon his background as the son of Moroccan parents in Belgium, is expected to wrap up by the end of November.

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