Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The godfather of Iranian hip-hop wants grassroots change

Being a hip-hop artists in a country where the genre is banned, comes with many challenges.

by Mari Shibata, Index on Censorship

I’m a hand that has become a fist…
I’m a Shia in Bahrain, I’m an Armenian in WWI
I’m the one who is starving, with ribs obvious from starvation

They are raping someone and I am the sound of the agonised screaming
When they tell him or her “relax, so that we can enjoy it, whore”, I’m that tense muscle
I’m an Afghan homosexual woman that lives in Iran

Iranian rapper Soroush Lashkari, aka Hichkas, is sharing extracts from an unfinished song for his new album Mojaz, translating the lyrics into English on the spot. Hichkas (Nobody) has been called the godfather of Iranian hip-hop, which seems fitting for a man who turned the local calling code for Tehran — 021 — into song and a sign language that became the symbol of the Iranian hip-hop movement and its followers. But being a hip-hop artist in a country where the genre is banned comes with many challenges.

“When we made physical copies of our first album Jangale Asphalt in 2006, we were arrested whilst selling it on the streets of Tehran,” Hichkas, now in his late twenties, tells Index on Censorship. “You can’t just sell records in Iran, you need to seek approval from the authorities before you release anything or perform concerts. There is no structure or support system for musicians to perform freely, and in particular for hip hop artists.”

Anyone who wishes to publish, distribute or perform music in Iran is required to submit their work for review by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (MCIG), which is guided by Islamic law in force since the country’s 1979 revolution. The MCIG operates under the influence of the minister of culture, who is chosen by the president and the parliament. Even if the amount of freedom artists may experience varies under each presidency, all recordings submitted are archived to ensure the authenticity of Iranian musical culture is maintained. Exposure to Western music is also heavily scrutinised with genres such as hip-hop banned altogether. The implication is that musicians adopting traditional Iranian standards are favoured over artists incorporating external sounds tainted with “decadence”. The name of Hichkas’ upcoming album Mojaz -– meaning an album or artwork within the mojavez, the seal of approval required from the MCIG to sell records in the country.