Afghanistan's First Female Rapper Upbeat on Future
By Caroline Wyatt, BBC News, Kabul
29 October 2012
In a country where women’s’ rights are still fiercely contested, Soosan Firooz has added a strong new voice to the debate in Afghanistan.
Aged just 23, the Afghan actress has become the nation’s first female rapper, making her debut with a song that speaks directly to other Afghans who have shared her experiences of pain and exile as refugees. The music for her rap, ‘Our Neighbours’, was composed by her teacher, the well-known Afghan musician Farid Rastagar. He commissioned a poet to set words to the music to tell Soosan’s story. Its lyrics speak of war and despair – and yet also of hope and defiance: ”When war started in our country, there were bullets, artillery, rockets. All our trees were burned down. The war forced us to leave our country. But we are hopeful for the future in our country. And we ask our neighbouring countries leave us alone.”
Soosan Firooz raps in Dari, one of the country’s two main languages, with her first – and so far only – song speaking of her childhood as a refugee in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan, during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s. It is nothing if not forthright, as she admits. “My song says, ‘Listen to my story, listen while I tell you what happened to me in exile. And listen to what happened to our people who fled the war.’ In Iran, some of our people became drug addicts and in Pakistan, some of our people became terrorists.”
Soosan says that as refugees, her family – like many Afghans – found life hard, both in Pakistan and Iran. “When we were there, my parents sent me to buy bread from the bakeries, and in both countries people pushed me back to the end of the queue. They treated Afghans very badly. I also say in my song that I don’t want our neighbours to interfere in our country – be that Pakistan, Iran or any other country. Let us build our country ourselves.”
So what drew her to rap? “I listened to other Afghan rappers, and realized that I can share my feelings with my people by singing rap,” she says. “I can tell all of those sad stories in a peaceful way by rapping. But before I started, I asked my father’s permission to sing rap and he said yes.”
Farid Rastagar has become Soosan’s mentor, and believes music is essential for young people in the country.
“Only one thing can really inspire young people, and that’s music. Over the past 10 years, many have become singers, and there are so many new radio and TV stations,” he says. “Music has improved a lot in Afghanistan, and this young generation has the talent. They want to tell people they are not extremists and they are not Taliban – and they want to help change this country.”
But Soosan’s career has also been driven by financial necessity. Returning to Afghanistan seven years ago from Pakistan, her family couldn’t afford to send her to school. She had to find work, first as a seamstress, but then – when the family moved to Kabul – as an actress. She now supports her family by acting in popular soap operas.
Dangers & Threats
But even today, there are dangers in her new career as a rapper.
“My family support me, and they are proud of me,” she says. She is keen to start a rap band with other young Afghan women, if she and her family can raise the money. But it won’t be easy.”However, there are some people who call me on the phone to threaten me, and tell me that if I continue, they’ll spray acid on my face. But I’m not afraid. I will keep singing.”
Her father, Abdul Ghafar Farooz, gave up his job to look after his daughter, and accompany her to the studios to ensure she’s safe. His pride in his daughter is clear.
“I knew she had talent, and I want to thank Farid for helping us,” he says, as he sips tea at the recording studio and watches his daughter in the studio.
“Of course, I do worry about her sometimes, but Soosan is a brave girl. I also tell her not to think about the threats but to continue her work. We have no other choice – this is our country. We have been refugees for a long time. But I am optimistic about the future here.”
Soosan wants to stay in Afghanistan to get her message across, though she’d love to travel as well, and share her rap with other nations and other Afghans still in exile, who have not yet dared to come home. “I want to tell Afghans who are still refugees to come back to your own country, and work together for our future,” she says.