She Can’t Keep Quiet Any Longer
Published in Swedish daily “Sydsvenska Dagbladet” on 14 April 2010
Source (Swedish): http://www.sydsvenskan.se/varlden/article687228/Hon-kan-inte-%E2%80%89vara-tyst-langre.html
English translation kindly provided by Anonymous, edited by Anusche Noring of “Iran Election News” on Facebook
by Kinga Sandén
Rapper Ghogha never wanted to be political. The Iranian regime forced her to change her mind. After having performed in the southern Swedish city of Malmö in February, she applied for asylum in Sweden.
20-year-old Ghogha had been writing, rapping and studio recording in Tehran for several years. Never under her real name, and never before an audience.
In the darkness behind the stage at Kägelbanan in Stockholm on 4 February, she had a thick lump in her throat. Outside she heard the murmur of hundreds of spectators. She had always wanted this. Now she was just terrified.
The tour leader of the Iranian hip-hop festival, Safoura Safavi, squeezed her hand and said:
“Remember why you are doing this and think of all the people you love. Focus on what you have to say. And say it.”
Ghogha thought of the other members of her band who had stayed behind in Tehran. She thought about all the violence, all those who had been killed in the streets.
As she walked on stage, the crowd was screaming with enthusiasm. When she started talking the audience went totally quiet. She heard herself saying:
“I come from a country where you are executed for your thoughts. Where women’s existence is forbidden.”
“I felt happy and calm. I did it, ha! I was scared, but I said everything I wanted to say. I got so much energy from the audience, I had tears in my eyes the whole time. I was being myself”, says Ghogha, as we meet at a fast food restaurant in a city which Sydsvenska Dagbladet does not wish to mention for the rapper’s safety.
Almost a year ago, I was planning to travel to Iran to write a series of reports before the presidential election. I wanted to interview a young musician and contacted Ghogha.
She agreed to talk to me. “But I’m not interested in politics”, she said.
When I remind her of this, she replies heatedly:
“When I walk, it is politics. When I talk, it is politics. I just can’t keep quiet anymore.”
After the elections last June, the regime’s repression soared – as did her own frustration.
“There was silence. People spoke with their eyes. There were so many uniforms everywhere.”
She and her friends became more cautious about what they wrote in their e-mails and said on the phone. But they could not help but participate in the demonstrations.
“Each time I went out I was afraid I might be recognised and arrested. Everything around me was totally sick. The police were beating children and old people, they behaved like animals. I cried all the time and became depressed, everybody became depressed.”
“What gave us hope was the support from people outside of Iran. Therefore it was important to me to travel to the festival in Sweden.”
During a demonstration in Tehran in late summer, she saw several plainclothes policemen beating up a young man. A woman went in between – Ghogha shows how the woman was holding out her arms to protect him, with her chador flapping like a black sail.
“They beat her many times on the head and the upper part of her body, but she was still standing. Then one of them pulled a gun. Everybody screamed.”
Ghogha shakes her head.
“I had never seen any firearms before. I was shocked to see that the government could do just anything and that the police were not abiding by any laws.”
The morality police became more zealous too. Ghogha and a male fellow student were interrogated about why they talked to each other at university. Were they related?
The fact that they were part of the same group for a project was not considered a mitigating circumstance. Their identity cards were confiscated.
“Each step we take is wrong. Little things are crimes. The religious police arrest us for the way we dress, for what we do, for breathing. They want to take us to heaven by force.”
Ghogha found it increasingly difficult to control her anger. She dropped out of her engineering studies because she was afraid of accidentally saying something that would get her into trouble.
“My mother and father agreed that it was better that I quit.”
She describes them as free-thinkers, but not politically involved. They supported her plans to travel to the hip-hop festival in Sweden.
A few weeks before the trip plainclothes agents showed up in the studio where she and her band were working. They confiscated some hard drives, the criminal charge being “recording by a female rapper”.
It took some time before she found out about this. No one dared to call her from their mobile phones, fearing that calls might be intercepted.
The owner of the studio managed to bribe himself out of a trial, but the others in the band were scared. They cancelled their Sweden plans. Two days before the trip, the father of the backing vocalist was arrested for something not related to his daughter’s music – yet, she got scared and decided to back out of the trip too.
So Ghogha was alone when she said goodbye to her family at Imam Khomeini airport. She thought she would be performing at a small festival in a distant country where no one cared about hip-hop in Farsi.
Yet, as soon as she arrived she was met by interview requests from all major Swedish news media, the BBC and Voice of America. The demand for hearing a voice from inside Iran was enormous.
“I realised that this was my chance to draw people’s attention to what is happening to my country.”
But she had no other plans than to return home after the tour.
“I just want a free Iran,” she said as she stepped onto the stage at Babel in Malmö on 6 February, the last concert of the tour.
Ghogha spoke quietly and looked tired, gazed down at the floor or somewhere above us, the audience who had come to listen to her. Afterwards, I asked her if she really thought of going back.
She replied that she did not know, and it was true, she says now. She had not yet decided by then.
“Many advised me to apply for asylum. People say that the regime kills for less than what I have done and advised me to hide here, too.”
She submitted her application for asylum in February. Now she is waiting. Sleeping, watching TV, socialising with new friends.
“Right now I’m confused, I do not know what will happen to me in Sweden. I miss my family, my streets, the sun. Emotionally, it is wrong for me to stay, but logically it is right.”
Ghogha has been invited to perform in several European countries, but as long as she is applying for asylum, she is not allowed to travel. She is impatient, she says, her body is restless.
“I want to give hope to people in Iran. I am here to speak, not to be silent.”
Women barred from singing
It is forbidden for women to perform as solo singers in Iran.
Hip-hop is practically illegal after having been condemned as decadent and alien to Islamic culture by leading politicians.
The hip-hop festival “Voices of Change” was part of the Swedish National Theatre’s project showcasing culture from and about Iran. Read more about the tour and the featured artists: http://bit.ly/bFeAi3
To watch the rapper’s concerts, enter the search term “Ghogha” on Youtube.com.
The stage name “Ghogha” means chaos. Sydsvenska Dagbladet does not publish the artist’s real name for her and her family’s safety.