Afghanistan has officially met its first female rapper. And her request is simple: “Listen to my story / Listen to my pain and suffering.”
Sosan Firooz is a 23-year-old woman living in a mud house in north Kabul, in what the Associated Press describes as a “poor neighborhood.” She writes her music on a desktop computer that doesn’t always work, and can’t afford to make CDs or even music videos straying from photographic series of her own images. But she’s doing something important and monumental with what she has: she’s speaking out about her own life and experiences and the social change that is needed in her homeland.
“Our Neighbors” is currently Firooz’s only song, but it speaks volumes. On the track, which is only available via YouTube, Firooz spans topics in her native Dari ranging from women’s liberation to her time spent as a refugee in neighboring Iran during the Afghan civil war, when she was just a girl. “I remember while we were in Iran, we were called ‘dirty Afghans’ and told to go to the back of the line at the bakery,” she told the AP. Firooz warns Afghans in her lyrics that, should they leave their country hoping for more, they will merely end up wanting “to kiss the dust of their homeland.”
What Firooz is doing is astonishing and awe-inspiring, and for a variety of reasons: as an established actress and emerging performer, she challenges conventional ideas about Afghan women and their place in public life; through her lyrics and image as a rapper, she presents a much less conservative ideal of Afghan womanhood than is typically accepted in her own culture. And she’s willing to suffer for it, although not alone – backlash regarding her work, for example, is balanced out by an extremely supportive family and home life that allows her to pursue her radical rap career:
Firooz’s uncle has cut off relations with his family because she appears on TV and sings, says her father, Abdul Ghafar Firooz. He says he has quit his job at the government-run electric department to accompany her whenever she leaves the house and protect her as she pursues her acting and musical career.
“I am her secretary, answering her phones. I am her bodyguard, protecting her. When she’s out, I must be with her,” her father said. “Every parent must support their daughters and sons to help them progress,” he said.
Singer/Composer Fared Rastagar arranged “Our Neighbors” and has commended Firooz for her courage and her family for their support. “Rap is needed here,” he said. (Side note: rap is needed everywhere.)
Rap is still mostly coming-of-age in Afghanistan, and therefore has yet to develop a real culture or language within the region, but we’ve seen from the rise of hip-hop and rap in America that this can be a brutal and honest medium for the oppressed. Firooz’s voice is an important addition to a relatively new conversation, and the hope and devotion she holds for Afghanistan shines through even in her most impassioned moments. Firooz is not simply making a scene — she’s creating an entirely new cultural method for communication and for expressing a need for real and significant change in her homeland.
Through her own words and her own experiences, Firooz has made demands on the country she loves deeply: to be able to create, to live in a space where she is accepted and respected, and to be an instrument of peace. It’s intriguing to wonder how Afghanistan will answer her.