Iran's 'illegal' rappers want cultural revolution

In a cosy sound-proof recording studio, housed in a decrepit building in central Tehran, Felakat lounges on a chair, surrounded by sound mixers. Sporting a tousled black shirt and a rumpled-and-spiky hairstyle – popular as "Tintin style" in the local barber's parlance – this Persian rapper could pass for a punk icon.

"I devoted my life to rap when I was just 15," says the 27-year-old whose stage name means"miserable" in Farsi. "Rap is my god." ButFelakat is well aware of the perils of indulging in rap music as a profession. The music is forbidden in Iran.

Rappers replicate American accents, indulge in obscene lyrical content and often use female leads or background voices – all symbols of Western decadence to the authorities.

Despite the restrictions, Felakat and countless other rap musicians are the demigods of Iran's "underground" music scene – an expression that applies to any group which fails to obtain a recording license from the Culture Ministry. In a country where 70 per cent of the population is under 32, society is strongly influenced by the young.

Felakat is aware of his appeal. He coyly admits his female fanbase has "become fanatical" since the release of "Nazgol," his first hit track, themed on love and fidelity, last March. "I've had to change my mobile phone number twice," he grins.

With the introduction of satellite television in Iran in the early 1990s – also illegal – hip-hop found an explosive following and eventually the fans began to create their own version.

Another group, Zedbazi, introduced gangster rap withtheir song "Mehmooni," or "In the Club". The most famous rapper, Soroush Lashkari, who boasts the nickname Hich Kas – or Nobody – is thought of as the "father of Persian rap". And, astonishingly in a country where singing is banned for women, female rappers also dot the landscape.

The first of the female hip-hop and rap artists was Salome, who lives in Tehran and focuses on social issues such as the miseries of the war in Iraq and prostitution.

Given the restrictions, one of the main ways for Iranian rappers to get their music out both locally and globally is via the internet. Many websites – such as www.rap98.com and www.parshiphop.com – make downloading it easy. There may be fame, but there's little money in the business because of tight regulations. Most CD shop owners refuse to sell underground music, fearing raids – if caught, they face imprisonment and hefty fines. Concerts in private gatherings are sometimes cancelled because of threats from ad-hoc neighbourhood Islamic vigilantes.

In March last year, the government filtered a number of underground music websites. Last April, some rappers were incarcerated, their recording studios raided and shut down. Felakat was also arrested and later released on bail.

Mohammad Dashtgoli, of the Culture Ministry, which is responsible for vetting music "in accordance with Islam," said: "There is nothing wrong with this type of music in itself. But due to the use of obscene words rap has been categorised as illegal." But".S" has composed up to 100 Persian songs, 80 of which are rap. Only two of them have clearance from the ministry. "If we adhere to their red lines, rap will be ruined," he says. But he is hopeful that rap music will go overground one day in Iran. "The youth are the majority, and they can't ignore their aspirations," he says.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
Ministry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Richard Dawkins is known for his outspoken views
people
Life and Style
L’Auberge du pont de Collonges (AFP)
food + drinkFury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Arts and Entertainment
Bourne's New Adventures dance company worked with 27 young Londoners to devise a curtain-raiser staged before New Adventures' performance of Edward Scissorhands
theatreStar choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links