REFUGEE: A Conversation With Nadia Tehran

December 22, 2016

During a year of right wing political chaos and mass media manipulation you could either think we’re on the verge of a global uprising, or the end of the world. But Nadia Tehran is here to help you decide.Nadia thinks that now is a good time to speak up. She’s part of a growing movement of female artists using their voice to raise social consciousness. Growing up in Sweden as part of an Iranian family, her views incorporate two global perspectives. Her recent EP, Life is Cheap, Death is Free, is the by-product of a controversial Swedish election and the growing paranoia surrounding refugees.

We spoke with Nadia as she enjoyed a night off between shows in Amsterdam, to talk about her music and identity in an ever-changing global landscape.

I love what you’re representing, I feel like you’re a voice for a lot of people right now.

Thank you, it’s a good time to speak up.

Other than your music are you working on any other projects?

I’ve been studying film and journalism in my adult life, so I make my own videos, as I did with the ‘Refugee’ video and at the moment I’m also working on another video that I’m directing myself. I also work on fashion so yeah, I’ve got some projects going on.

I watched the ‘Refugee’ video which was amazing, and I heard that you actually got arrested during filming that, can you tell us more?

Yeah, we were running around Tehran just filming and different authorities were stopping us every other minute and asking questions. There was one time that it got a bit more serious but we got out of it, because my dad is a really good talker and I was just playing like a dumb tourist! But it was difficult.

How have you and your music been received in Iran?

I actually haven’t been back to Iran since I made the video, but I get a lot of people that are writing me from there who are really excited. I think there’s a younger generation who’s really getting what I’m talking about and they think it’s cool that you’re pushing the boundaries of what Iranian culture looks like and what it can mean and what it can represent.

I think that some people think it’s a Westernised view of it, and of course it is, because I am Swedish too so I had that perspective when I was making the video. As well, it became a comment on how refugees are being viewed in the western world, and the paranoia is growing, and I’m being viewed upon as this dangerous immigrant. At the same time it was a comment to the Iranian regime, as well. So it was kind of a political fight that was in between these two worlds, pushing against both of them.

I was just turning all of the negative stuff that I was hearing into something positive’

I feel like people have a less human perspective on what’s actually going on in the world without seeing these things for themselves.

I think it’s important to see it with your own eyes, to actually understand it. I’ve been involved with that too, I was working at the central station very randomly, I met some people there that needed a place to stay for the night and needed clothes, and all of a sudden we became this organisation called Refugees Welcome. They existed in all European countries.

I was involved with that for a while, just trying to sort out some people’s issues. I mean, even though it felt like however much I did it was never enough, but that really opened up my eyes even more to see it with your own eyes and feel it.

‘Somewhere along the line we have to embrace who we are.’

Can you talk me through the making of the EP?

N: Well, I had a lot of fun making the EP, made by a lot of different producers (Yung Gud, Duvchi, Tim Söderström). There was an election in Sweden, and our right wing party got into Parliament and they were surprisingly big. I think a lot of the songs are just my reaction to that and how I was feeling at the time. I felt so empowered just by making the music and… I mean in ‘Refugee’, I was just turning all of the negative stuff that I was hearing into something positive like, if you’re going to call me a thief, for being a refugee then I’m going to steal everything that you have and use it as an advantage!

That’s how the mind works, we become what we’re told we are.

Yeah exactly, and somewhere along the line we have to embrace who we are, even if society made you a thief then don’t hate yourself for it, we’ve got to own what we are.

So when did you start making music?

Well I can’t really tell when it all started because I feel like I’ve been writing songs all my life. The song ‘Superstars’ I wrote when I was like 13, and it’s been following me all these years but I finally got to record it in a good way. There’s actually more of those songs that I wrote during that time when I was a teenager and I picked them up again and then I think there’s going to be one or two on the album that’s coming.

Have you got a release date for the album?

No it’s not done yet. I’ve been working on it for a while but I don’t want to be on a schedule. It’s going to be ready when it’s ready. Fuck the schedule.

For the people that don’t know, how would you describe Iran and the Middle East?

I think that’s a hard question because I can’t describe Iran in that way. It’s different people like everywhere in the world and there’s a growing youth culture.

It’s such a beautiful culture as well. The Western world could probably take a thing or two from their culture.

Yeah for sure, I agree, but also because all my life I’ve been trying to give a nice picture of Iranians to other Swedes or other Europeans and just try to portray them as good as possible, but I think there’s a problem in that. It’s like you need to defend who you are. You shouldn’t have to.

There are good people in Iran and there are bad people in Iran just like everywhere else in the world and, culturally, I’m so inspired by Iranian music, and Iranian food and Iranian film and art and you know just the aesthetics. There’s definitely a culture people should look into and learn more about because there’s so much even in poetry and literature, there’s so much more you can learn from the culture.

Which Iranian poets inspire you?

My favourite is of course Bruq Ksabsab. I don’t know if you know her, but she’s a modern poet who, very early on, was writing all these sexually loaded poems in a time when in a way it’s still kind of provocative in Iran. She was so cool and her poetry was really strong, and she’s also a feminist icon to me, and she died really young too.

Are these the kind of people that inspired the EP?

Well maybe not directly, but someone that directly inspired a song on the EP – the song ‘Superstars’ – is inspired by an Iranian singer who’s called Googoosh, and she’s the biggest superstar Iran’s ever had. She was living in exile after the revolution, she was imprisoned for ten years and couldn’t write music. Then today she’s living in exile in LA I think, but she’s a major superstar who had to leave her country to be able to make music and the song is about all those people leaving their lives and their environment and a place where you’re actually someone, to go to a place where you’re nobody and people don’t see that you’re actually a superstar.

What words would you use to describe yourself and your music?

Well it’s always hard to describe a sound but I’m very inspired by politics, and I’ve been listening to everything from punk to heavy metal to hip-hop and pop music. I think there’s a little bit of everything in there and of course the Middle Eastern references too, but I was talking to a guy after the show the other week and he asked me the same question and I said I don’t know, you can name it and he just described it as psychedelic.

Yeah I get that vibe from it too… especially with ‘Cash Flow’.

And I think that you may get that feeling even more when you come to my live shows.

‘It’s important for girls who look like me to be able to just sing a love song’

Do you feel that it’s important or necessary for all music or any art to represent a cause, or be a voice of some kind?

Well I think that the important thing is that there are a range of different people who are heard. It’s not important that everyone who is heard should have a cause, I don’t think every artist needs to be political, even though I think that all art is political; whether you choose to talk about those things or not, it’s still political. 

It’s important for girls who look like me to be able to just sing a love song, and maybe not be this really hard girl who’s talking politics or fighting whatever fight. The important thing is that the range is wide and that all different people from different cultures and different experiences get access to the platform, because that’s going to shape how we view people. If it’s only one type of people who are heard then our perspective is going to be more narrow.

So what would you say to the lost rebels or the people that are confused about their political or creative identity?

I think that there is a problem today. I felt this way myself, that we are so blinded by these ways of right wing extremists and people who like Donald Trump or whatever that I get blinded by my frustration over them and I can’t use my energy to actually produce what I want to see and instead I’m fighting them.

I feel like we need to organise and fight for what we want, instead of fighting against something that we don’t want. In our political identity that’s important because I think it’s easier when you feel strong together, and we organise together, and build what we want to see. So if you feel confused with your political identity, just search for other people who get you excited and not follow the herd of people that are irritating you. I decided last week that I’m never going to lose my breath again talking about Trump, I don’t feel the need to put my energy to that.

What do you feel for the future or hope for the future of the world?

Even though I’ve been feeling so hopeless lately, I see people who are doing so many nice things and I’m really inspired by them. I’ve been seeing all these women who are helping each other and uplifting each other, supporting each other. People who are opening their wardrobes, their homes, their fridges and giving their time to people who need it. I just feel like we’re getting stronger, we just need to find each other and organise together and we’re going to be fine. There’s a catastrophe going on and it’s not going to be in the near future that we can stop all the wars or whatever but we are actually, we are more than them.

We just need to realise it, and it’s people like you that are going to help as well.

Well I hope so, I hope that other people can feel inspired by this and feel strong and be hopeful.

Words by: Sarah Morgan
For Viper Magazine

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