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Individuals of all economic strata are shedding their jobs, hometowns, and lifestyle to embrace a wider experience and a more meaningful existence.

Paradise Sorouri

Paradise SorouriParadise Sorouri was born in Iran to Afghani parents who escaped the civil war in Afghanistan in that country but moved back to Herat, Afghanistan's third largest city, following the fall of the Taliban.

She grew up idolising Tupac Shakur, Eminem and Beyonce even though she didn't know anyone who shared her love of hip-hop until she met a guy named Diverse - another former refugee just back from Iran.

The two decided to start making music together in 2008, but it proved to be quite difficult.

She was threatened with being raped and was beaten in the street by disapproving men, but Sorouri refused to stop singing about the horrific injustices inflicted upon Afghan women.

"I begged people passing by to help me but they just urged the men to beat me to death" she remembered.

"Now I am speaking out and fighting."

"Herat is a very religious city," says Diverse.

"Sharia law forbids women to sing. The fact that we are not married was also a problem. Every time we'd try to go to a studio together, strangers would start following us."

Paradise SorouriOne night, Paradise was walking home with her younger brother when 10 men on six motorcycles surrounded her and started beating her with wooden rods.

"They were shouting at me and saying I was a bad influence on other women by trying to make music," Paradise says.

"All I could do was to try to defend my brother as 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."

When Diverse found her, Sorouri's clothes were torn and she was covered in blood. He immediately took her to the police.

"They told me I should stop singing." says Paradise.

"That's when I knew that if I stayed silent, nothing would change."

Life has not been easy for Paradise Sorouri. In the past seven years, the 27-year-old singer has been forced to flee her country twice, received more death threats than she can count, and was brutally beaten by 10 men on the street and left for dead.

Her crime was that she covered her head with a baseball cap instead of a hijab, raised her voice for women's rights, and is Afghanistan's first female rapper.

According to the United Nations, 87% of women have endured physical or sexual violence in Afghanistan and Sorouri's scathing lyrics about gender inequality in post-Taliban Afghanistan have become a spark for change and a lightning rod for controversy.

Paradise SorouriShe raps defiantly in Dari about how women get acid poured on their faces for resisting rape, be married off as children to much older men, and belong to husbands who can set them on fire.

"It doesn't matter if you are a singer, an artist, or a teacher," she says.

"If you are a woman in Afghanistan, you are a problem. I am speaking out and fighting for women who don't have a voice."

Speaking out has come at a heavy price, but it has also brought her support.

Sorouri was recognised by the United Nations in 2013 for promoting human rights, while she and her fiance, Diverse, also won the Afghan ATN Network's award for best rap act in 2015 and have been nominated again.

But as her popularity soared, so did the number of violent threats she received. Concerned for their safety, she and Diverse fled Afghanistan last year and joined the more than one million migrants who arrived in Germany from the Middle East.

This meant that they have begun to reach an entirely new audience and are writing and producing songs from their Berlin apartment and touring throughout Germany.

They have released their first music video in two years for the song Bosaye Eshgh and have just headlined at the International FeminEast Festival in Stockholm.

Rebel Beats, a documentary about Sorouri's struggle as Afghanistan's first female rapper appeared in European film festivals in early 2016.

Paradise SorouriFearful of what might happen if they stayed in Herat, the couple moved to neighbouring Tajikistan in late 2010, where Paradise began writing songs about women's rights over Diverse's music.

The following year, they released Faryad-e Zan (Woman's Shout), the first song ever to feature a female Afghan rapper.

In the years since, Sorouri says she feels proud and honoured to have ushered in a handful of other female rappers, even if several have claimed to be the country's first while simultaneously asking her for guidance.

During the next two years, the duo recorded nine more songs and shot five videos in the relative safety of Tajikistan.

Then, in the summer of 2012, Sorouri received horrific news: back in Herat, to avoid being married off to men in their 60s, her two young cousins aged nine and 12 had burned themselves alive.

Devastated, Sorouri returned to Afghanistan and recorded a song in their memory called Nalestan.

"I wanted to think and they hit me in the head," she sang. "They burned my face in the name of Islam / And sold me because I'm only a woman."

The song won international attention, with 143Band being named Afghanistan's best rap artist at the 2014 Rumi World Music Awards.

"The success of Nalestan was both good and bad," Sorouri says.

Paradise Sorouri"We were interviewed by journalists from all over the world, but I started to get death threats every day.

It got so bad I had to stay inside my sister's house in Herat for a month like a prisoner."

Still, Sorouri and Diverse were convinced their message of female empowerment would be more effective if they stayed in Afghanistan, so they relocated once more, this time to Kabul.

When Rebel Beats began filming in the early part of 2015, a woman named Farkhunda who was falsely accused of burning the Qur'an had just been beaten to death and set on fire by an angry mob in the street.

The daily barrage of threats directed at Sorouri had also reached a fever pitch and, throughout the film, she anxiously looks over her shoulder to see if she's being watched.

At one point, the camera holds on a stony-faced Sorouri as she reads message after message directed at her on the 143Band's Facebook page.

Several men describe wanting to rape and behead her in front of Diverse and another says he'll throw acid on her if he ever sees her in person.

The only time she breaks is when she's asked about Farkhunda.

"She has made me stronger." Paradise says while fighting back tears.

Paradise Sorouri"I will fight not only for Farkhunda, but for all the Farkhundas."

A month after the cameras stopped rolling, Sorouri and Diverse left Afghanistan for good and began the arduous process of resettling in Berlin. Sorouri is still fighting and is scheduled to speak at Talking Taboo, an international conference for women's rights in London on the 2nd of December.

"The people of Afghanistan still need our voice." she says.

"From here, we can make it louder."

Paradise Sorouri and her fiancee Diverse are both ethnic Afghans who were born in Iran but now live in Berlin. They perform as the two-member group called 143 Band.

Being a Rap artist in Afghanistan was a nightmare according to Sorouri:

"Unfortunately, I cannot say that it was easy. It was incredibly hard for me at first. It was hard to live in Afghanistan - a country with many conflicts, but also as a woman in entertainment.

In the beginning, I was not only working a full-time job but also held concerts in Kabul as well. Let me tell you, the hardest thing is to hear so much criticism from every corner.

For instance, one of my biggest problems is that Diverse and I have been engaged for a long time but are not yet married. Another issue is that my clothing style is very different from that of other women in the country.

Paradise SorouriI wear whatever I want, and the public does not like it. Whenever I was on stage singing about my struggles or the struggles of other women, people would criticize me, accusing me of only promoting negativity and singing against Islam.

In these people's minds, if you talk about the hardships that women experience in their daily lives you are a kafir - Arabic term used in Islamic doctrine to denote one who rejects Islam.

Sorouri and Diverse created 143 Band - the numbers in the name come from the number of letters in the words 'I love you.'

"Sometimes we like to sing and sometimes we like to rap. It depends on the composition of the song and most importantly its mood."

"On our official website we used to get warnings not to perform or create new music. So right now we are very careful about who we add as fans on our official Facepage.

Another issue that I experienced was that there was a controversy regarding the dress I wore to the Music Awards in Kabul that was sponsored by a group of Afghans in the United States and held for the first time in October of 2014.

It got to the point where people would call me on my phone with threats and nasty words. I would get a new SIM card and phone number, but those nasty words still managed to reach me.

In the televised version of the awards ceremony they actually censored my remarks and refused to air them. It's because of things like this that I don't usually go out even to go shopping or for fun. I'm also very careful about the locations of our concerts. It's truly dangerous for me out there.

Paradise SorouriI have to admit that I felt like a prisoner in Afghanistan. My life there was spent mostly in the house because it was too dangerous to go out. The war in Afghanistan was getting worse. For instance, two blocks down from my house I actually saw fighting going on.

It was hard for me to witness the war first hand. I would always read about these things or see them on TV but it is completely different if you see it with your own eyes.

Sometimes I do fear and sometimes I don't. It is true that our lives are in the hands of God - one day we are here and the next we are gone. But truly, the fear of the unknown is the scariest part.

I do not know what awaits me in the future. One day I may be killed by the Taliban or I might be here for a long time. But one thing I know is that I try to be a good person, to inspire, and help others who need it.

I think we have had a positive influence on women in Afghanistan, especially with the song Faryad-e Zan [Woman's Voice], which received a lot of positive feedback from supporters.

It was inspired by a cousin who committed suicide by burning herself alive. She and her sister were intended to marry two much older men, one 45 and one 65 years old.

After hearing her story, I knew I had to write something about it and rap in her honor.

Another story that shocked me was of a woman who was so desperate she had to sell her 4 year-old child. Whenever I would hear these types of stories, I would always ask God why these things happen to Afghan women.

Paradise SorouriOne of my favorite pieces of feedback was from this little girl who wrote to me that her father changed his mind about the role of women in his household after hearing my song. He even let her go to school to continue her education.

When I was reading it I had tears in my eyes, I was that happy.

Another girl from California in the United States who hasn't been in Afghanistan in seven years wrote to me that she is very proud of my work and she is inspired by my music. She even encouraged her cousin in Afghanistan to take up music. This kind of feedback always motivates me to create more music.

The more recent of two videos, for the song "Nalestan" shows Paradise rapping on the streets of Herat, Afghanistan. Wearing a black hoodie the 28-year-old Paradise raps the chorus in Dari: "Afghanistan is my country, but it is full of pain. Always waiting for another blast."

During the public video shoot, Sorouri said she experienced verbal abuse from both men and women who expressed their disapproval through insults and even threatened her. The ongoing backlash on the street and two physical attacks by angry mobs on motorbikes forced the couple to relocate to Tajikistan. They then returned to Kabul, but soon afterwards immigrated to Berlin.


Follow Paradise and Diverse on Facebook

Bosaye Eshgh - 143Band with Paradise Sorouri and Diverse


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Publisher: Oneworld (UK/US)
Pub Date: 16 August 2012
Status: Draft manuscript
Length: 288 pages

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