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In Iran, Women Use Rap to Rage Against the Regime

BY Larisa Epatko  June 10, 2011 at 12:29 PM EST

Rap in any country can be a way to make a statement. In Iran, it’s one of the few outlets for women with something to say.

“Samira,” a young woman featured in a report airing on Friday’s NewsHour, hides her identity in order to speak freely about her experiences during the opposition protests of 2009.

As a teenager, Samira said she was upset about restrictions on how she could behave and dress under the Islamic regime. Feeling hemmed in, she turned to music as a way to give a voice to those who felt suppressed like she did.

But in Iran, female singers can only perform in front of all-female audiences. So Samira and other rappers like her still perform, but usually in front of small groups at private parties and in underground studios.

Even though they don’t have much of a stage, rappers and rock musicians are popular in Iran, a country where about 60 percent to 70 percent of its population of 78 million is under age 30. And their lyrics, which deal with life experiences in Iran, make them more relatable than music produced in other lands.

“As a rap singer I try to voice what other young people were thinking and could not express,” Samira said recently through a translator. “I always thought that what I would write and sing would give courage to others and they would also speak.”

She said she starts with her own personal problems and then relates them to what she considers larger social defects.

As a 23-year-old, Samira has only known the conservative cleric regime that came to power during the 1979 revolution, and said she had two choices, “either accept everything as it is … or rage against it.”

One day, as she was participating in opposition protests in 2009, which became known as the Green Movement, Samira said a man was gunned down right behind her.

“I wrote the lyrics of ‘Freedom Dream’ that night,” she said. She envisioned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as her audience.

Samira said Iran’s opposition movement gave people like her hope, which the younger generation will carry with it for years to come.

Lyrics to the above video:

Captive and prisoners behind the dark walls,

We know our destiny to freedom.

We, the cage birds fearful of outside, in Evin prison

We sing the song of flight.

Together, solid as a row of cypress.

In memory of brave Neda, Alive and Green! [Neda, meaning "voice" in Farsi, was the young woman whose death during a 2009 protest was widely seen on YouTube and became a rallying point for the opposition movement.]

Dedicated to the soil of Iran,

Captive of the bitter sunset,

But tomorrow’s green sunrise belongs to us!

Related resources:

The Center for Investigative Reporting has posted an extended interview with “Leila,” another woman featured in Friday’s broadcast report who describes her experiences while in prison, and a Q&A with the Iranian journalist who interviewed the women.

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