GROWING up in Oxford as the albino son of a Pakistani couple was hard for Imran Zeb. But he now believes it was part of God’s plan to make him a Chinese rap artist. Debbie Waite reports...
Imran Zeb was born at the John Radcliffe on June 16, 1979, to the complete shock of his Asian parents Aurang and Zaiton, who suddenly had a ‘white’ baby.
Now 33, he said: “Mum and Dad never talked about it much, but it must have been pretty stressful for them.
“They were obviously in shock about having this ‘white’ baby to go with their two older, darker-skinned children.”
Just one in 17,000 people in the UK are born with albinism each year.
Imran said: “I was part of a family and a Muslim community where everyone had dark skin, apart from me.
“Infant school wasn’t too bad. Kids at that age don’t tend to make snap decisions about people, but near the end I started to feel the beginnings of isolation.”
Not only did Imran have white skin and pale hair, his condition meant his eyeballs shook and he had to wear thick, corrective glasses.
“Not great for a schoolkid!” he joked. “At secondary school I had no real friends and definitely no girlfriends.”
Imran, who went to Oxford School for Boys, loved rap and hip-hop music.
He said: “I did well in my GCSEs, stayed on for A-Levels – but still no girlfriends!
“I also discovered Brother Ali, an albino, Asian rapper living in the US and started to write my own rhymes on the back of my books.”
He went on to study History at London’s Brunel University.
Then in 2005 he visited China – and was smitten.
He said: “I loved the anonymity and all the possibilities.”
After a spell working for the NHS as a clerk in Oxford, he told his parents he was moving to Shanghai, to teach English.
He said: “They were worried about how I would cope. But I got there, dumped my cane and magnifying glass and felt strangely at home, even though I didn’t speak Chinese and no-one spoke English!”
There he met Hui Fen and they were married a year later in 2007.
He said: “I had always worried terribly about having children and them being born with albinism.
“My younger brother Kamran, 25, also went on to have it and when my first son Jalaludin Sayuti, now three, was born without it, it was such a relief.”
A second son, Salahudin Ayubi, two, is also unaffected.
Since moving to Shanghai, Imran has realised his dream of becoming a hip-hop artist and, now fluent, writes and sings in Chinese.
Performing under the name Hanafi, he plays underground bars across the city.
He said: “Chinese music is heavily censored and I sing about politics and religion which is a bit of a risk, but one worth taking.
“In the next few years I want to move back to Oxford with my family and make a name for my music.
“I adore China but I miss Oxford’s clean air, space and milk!
“The other day, my older son pointed at my hair and asked: ‘Why is it lighter than mine?’ “There will be questions and things for him to deal with growing up, because he has an albino dad. I hope like me, he’ll see that everything happens for a reason.”
FACTFILE Albinos have inherited altered genes that do not make the usual amounts of the pigment melanin.
This can result in pale skin which burns easily in the sun, virtually white hair, severe short-sight and a severe sensitivity to light.
For a baby to be born albino, both parents must carry the albino gene.
If so, there is a one in four chance their baby will inherit the condition.
Children born to parents who do not have the condition are often carriers.