Women, music and Iran: no matter how you look at it, these three hot topics never fail to elicit conversation from Middle East scholars or entrenched native informants. Western audiences particularly love these conversations — especially when they involve a good female lead who somehow reinforces the “superiority” and freedom of Western culture. She is all the more exotic and hailed when her success is in spite of sexual and political repression imposed by the Islamic Republic regime.
But, not giving in to this and creating tracks that look at social and cultural issues through the primary lens of the personal, rather than the political, is what makes Rapper Salome MC such an important and emerging voice on the global Hip Hop scene. She is billed as “Iran’s first female Rapper,” a feat in and of itself in a country where both Rap and female solo singers are legally banned. She offers a vast repertoire and immense talent, an insightful young woman urgently and eloquently articulating the anger and cynicism Iran’s youth feels towards their current situation, and the idealistic hope they harbor.
Yet because of the overplayed tropes that Salome many times finds herself caught in by media coverage, she frequently turns down requests by press and filmmakers (Aslan Media’s exclusive interview ran this past May). When Iranian-American filmmaker Sahar Sarshar decided to make a documentary about one of the most influential music artists amongst today’s Iranian youth, she knew she would have some speed bumps along the way. As the producer of Voice of America’s short-lived series ZirZameen, which offered viewers of VOA’s Persian News Network inside glimpses of underground artists who use their work to engage with their communities, she’s certainly no stranger to the unique circumstances that come with covering these underground artists. First, there is access. Then there is the fine line of providing accurate portrayal without sacrificing an artist’s safety or privacy. “She requested that we first get to know each other further,” Sarshar remarks. “And in these past few months, we have communicated back and forth getting to know each other as artists, collaborators and friends.”
“We finally decided it was time to work together to make not only a documentary but also a music video for her song ‘The Price of Freedom,’ from her latest album I Officially Exist.”
Third, there is money.
This is where Salome’s fans and connoisseurs of global Hip Hop and socially conscious music come into play. Just last week, Sarshar announced a Kickstarter campaign to help crowdfund Salome’s Tale, her film that aims to tell the “inspiring story… that her fans in Iran have been eagerly waiting for.” Set to end in four weeks on October 16, the campaign will fund the project’s $6,000 budget.
“To fund both projects we decided that our best approach would be crowdfunding. This way it will be a bigger collaborative process that we ever imagined. Our budget is small but our ideas on this project are large. So to all Hip Hop, music and art lovers, please join us in creating a project that we can all be moved and proud of.”
The film and music video serve as a perfect compliment to I Officially Exist, a springboard not for a new Salome, but certainly more developed one. Some of her tracks are more overtly political, some more deeply personal; but what they all have in common is the eloquent articulation of a young woman trying to balance her place in a world dominated by identity politics and conflicting narratives. Far from telling her story through the lens of victimhood, Salome’s music has always been a deeper character study, using her experiences to share with fans the journey that comes with creating and redefining your own authenticity and identity.
“I Rap therefore officially I am / I searched a lot and finally found a reason for my hands to exist / to write and mix the words with the best / neither my hell nor my heaven is defined / my destiny is unknown and out of my two hands / out of my brain”
For Sarshar, a filmmaker who sees her work as the conduit “to connect the audience to the subject of the documentary- nothing more,” it’s an exciting development as she continues to receive international attention for creating visually-driven videos that connect viewers with untold stories that add so much more depth to Iran and its culture than most can ever get from mainstream media.
To learn more about Salome’s Tale, and to contribute to the project, you can visit the project’s Kickstarter page here.By Safa Samiezade’-Yazd, Aslan Media Arts, Culture and Music Editor