Nadia Tehran is fearless. That much is evident from the first ten seconds of her blazing new EP Life is Cheap, Death is Free, which opens with the lyrics "With a mouth full of shit and a stolen tongue" and only gets more contentious from there.
Growing up in a Muslim Iranian family in a small Christian town in Sweden, Nadia Tehran explores the limits of personal and political identity. Coming to rap through a foray in punk, with a modus operandi of I Am What I Do, And I Do What I Want, her work feels like a battle cry for anti-authoritarianism, birthed directly out of the M.I.A. school of rebellion. Presumably, this philosophy also informed her decision to film a video for EP-opener "Refugee" with her father in Iran, which was very illegal.
Nadia says: "Me and my father went to Iran to record this video. Crossing that border I never knew how much this project would effect everyone around me. I want to thank my family and friends for standing strong with me. This is my history; right in the gap between the systems, belonging nowhere and everywhere. This is a comment on the Western world’s paranoia, and a wink to a regime who think they can control us. We have no place but in the opposition. No fear."
We're premiering "Refugee below", which you should watch, ten times, then read our Q&A with Nadia after the jump.
Noisey: The video for "Refugee" was illegally filmed by yourself and your father in Iran. Could you talk us a little through why you did that, and what happened along the way?
Nadia Tehran: Well, women in Iran aren't allowed to sing at all, so for me to walk around the streets of Tehran dancing and rapping was way past illegal. I had an idea of doing the video as a search of my belonging in my origin. When I called my dad to and told him about it there was no doubt for him to come with. He knew more than me what type of troubles I would get in to. We were constantly running from different authorities wanting to see our footage. We actually got arrested once, but I managed to hide the memory card in my underwear before they opened the camera. I don't think I'd be here if I hadn't.
The video is about playing with the Western world’s paranoia over "people like me", and the idea of the "bad immigrant". At the same time I wanted to show how strong I am in the context of my family and friends and that I'm not ashamed of my history. All the people in the video are my friends and family, and they all really came through to make the video happen. Going to Iran, I had a vision of putting a fist up to the Western racists face, but it somehow also became a democratic fight against the Iranian government. I am a stranger to both sides, and have always been, but for the first time I felt that that was just where I belong, floating between the borders.
The lyrics hit back at anti-immigration and societal attitutes towards women. For you, how do those two things intersect?
Bad attitudes towards women aren't specific to the Middle East, and racism doesn't only exists in the West. I think both those issues are global. I'm talking about structures of power, and they exist everywhere in the world. Conservative and racist men have always argued that immigrants are "bad for society" because "they steal our jobs and rape our women". That's what I was trying to attack.
I think that there are a lot of politicians, journalists and artists today who are only interested in their "own" struggle rather than talking about structures that are general for everyone in the world. My struggle is always going to be general. Racism and sexism and all types of injustice go hand in hand, and as long as one person is not free, nobody is.
The first thing your press release says is: "As our world becomes more connected, as borders shrink and merge, we have never been more acutely aware of what it means to belong, of what it means to be free." What do those concepts mean to you – belonging and freedom?
I grew up in a Muslim Iranian family in a Christian small town in the "bible belt" of Sweden, so the concept of belonging is not really something that I was familiar with. When I was younger it made me so restless and frustrated, because all I really wanted to do was to belong. But it also made me question authorities, because I was never content with the environment, the rules and prevailing order never made any sense. Now the restlessness is a drive to keep searching and trying different contexts. I think I found my spot right there, in between, in not really belonging. Always in opposition.
Freedom for me is no fear. You can never feel free as long as you feel fear. The power have always used fear as a tool to control people. Racists do it. Terrorists do it. The paranoia today is like a mass psychosis. And it only drives us further apart from each other. What are we so afraid of? Death?
Apparently you have a background in punk?
When I was 12-13 I was this super cliche outsider. I hated school and everyone in it, skipped class and smoked behind the gymnasium, listening to Broder Daniel, My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths and Black Flag. There was only one band in my school and I was determined to be in it. So I downloaded some old Karen O demos I found online and sent them to the guys, told them it was me. They took me in and we did some great music during a couple years, and after that I was in some other different constellations. Punk music was the perfect way for me to make my parents freak out, the bullies to become my fans, and my teachers to shut the fuck up.
Follow Nadia on Twitter.