by Abaki Beck
“Since the Taliban left power, the situation for women in Afghanistan has improved, but only in large cities like Kabul, Mazar Sharif and Herat. And the majority of Afghanistan’s population does not live in these few cities. Every day we hear new stories about violence against women, forced marriages at very early ages and all sorts of other abuse. We still have a long way to go.”
- Paradise Sorouri, story in Bust
Our Feminist Hero Friday this week is Paradise Sorouri, an Afghan rapper and half of the duo 143Band. Paradise was born in Iran to an Afghan refugee family who later moved back to Herat, the third largest city in Afghanistan, after the fall of the Taliban. In 2008, she began making music with Diverse, an Afghan who had been a refugee in Iran as well, whom she later married.
When they first started making music, she rapped about love and similar topics - not the politically charged music she is known for today. Even this, however, was risky: Herat was a very religious city, and women were forbidden by Sharia law from singing. Paradise noted:
“In Afghanistan’s highly patriarchal society, if a woman has a job, she is looked down upon and will definitely be subjected to vulgar language. So just imagine what it is like for artists. Most people consider female artists as nothing more than prostitutes.”
As her profile as a rapper increased, so did violence towards her - including threats of rape and physical violence. At one point, she was publicly beaten by ten men and left to die. Of the experience, Sorouri reflected in an interview with the Guardian:
“They were shouting at me and saying I was a bad influence on other women by trying to make music...All I could do was to try to defend my brother. They passed me from one man to the next. I begged people nearby to help, but they just urged the men to beat me to death.”
After this traumatic experience, her and Diverse moved to Tajikistan for their safety. Upon moving to Tajikistan, they began writing more explicitly political music. The first song they released was Faryade Zan (Cry of the Woman), which discusses violence against women. This song is considered the first to feature an Afghan female rapper. They recorded nine songs over the next two years while living in Tajikistan.
Faryade Zan (Cry of the Woman):
In 2012, they released one of their most successful (and controversial) songs yet: Nalestan, which speaks out against forced marriages and child marriages in Afghanistan. Horrifyingly, the song is in memory of two of Paradise’s cousins, who burned themselves to death to avoid being forced to marry men in their 60s. Her cousins were nine and twelve at the time.
After the release of this song, the couple garnered more international attention and won Afghanistan’s best rap artist in the 2014 Rumi World Music Awards. They were also named best rap artist by the Afghan ATN Network in 2015, and are nominated this year as well.
Though they continue to gain recognition for their art and political voice, they also continue to receive threats of violence. The couple recently moved to Berlin and continue to make music safely. Since living in Germany their success has grown to reach new audiences - they have toured in cities throughout Europe, and Afghan director Omid Marzban began to film a documentary about Paradise called Rebel Beats, which he hopes will appear in European film festivals in 2017.
Today, we celebrate Paradise for her relentless pursuit of art and justice for women in Afghanistan. Her bravery paves the way for other female artists in Afghanistan, and other oppressive countries, to continue to push for their stories to be heard and celebrated.