“The art of protest arises when society is full of anger and the artist is part of the angry society.” That’s a statement made by Justina, an Iranian rapper, singer and songwriter, on the October 15 episode of the BBC show “The Cultural Frontline.” Justina and Iranian singer-songwriter and activist FarAvaz Farvardin were guests on the show, talking about protest songs in Iran. Experts of sorts, their 2020 song, “Fatva,” was a protest song ahead of its time.
Perhaps the most notable of recent Iranian protest songs is Shervin Hajipour’s “Baraye,” which was written in the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death after being arrested and beaten by Iran’s notorious morality police for not have worn appropriate headgear. After receiving nearly 100,000 submissions, it is now the favorite for the Recording Academy’s New Song for Social Change Grammy Award.
While Hajipour’s version of “Baraye” has been taken down from social media due to copyright issues, many versions can be listened to online, including this English translation by the Iranian singer-songwriter Rana Mansour. Despite the Islamic Republic’s efforts to silence the artistic voices of its people, Iranian musicians became extremely prolific during this period of upheaval. Many songs have been written in reaction to the current situation with the protest slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” at their heart. Some have been hastily uploaded to Instagram in their rawest form and pack a mighty punch, like this one from Sogand dedicated to the people of Iran.
Perhaps the most touching song is the one that doesn’t have a name or artist assigned to it, most likely for fear of reprisal. Presumably, the song is also called “Zan Zendegi Azadi (Woman, Life, Freedom)” because this phrase is repeated in the chorus and it is also what is written on the woman’s fingers in the video. The song beats like a heartbeat, as do the panting movements of the woman in the video, who bangs her head covered in a scarf as a trickle of blood escapes from a nostril. She then removes her headgear to reveal bullet holes in her chest as the corner of her mouth begins to bleed. She streaks the colors of the Iranian flag on one cheek and smears blood on the other cheek, finally releasing her hair and showing the words on her fingers. She compares her hair to fire and her voice to a dagger, and as devastating as looking at her, it’s also impossible to look away or get the song’s tribal beats out of your head.
Here are 15 more songs inspired by what many call the “Iranian Revolution.”
Translated as “Anthem for Equality”, this song is sung in unison by more than a dozen established Iranian singers (including the aforementioned Justina and Farvardin). The action-movie-like music, composed by Behrooz Paygan, pushes the militant songs of this call to action. The images show Iranian women of all ages in a variety of settings, from dining in a cafe to spray-painting the slogan “Woman Life Freedom” to hard-hitting protest images, capturing Iranian women in all facets of the life.
Never at a loss for words, Justina’s feelings for this song are wrapped up in its chorus, which asks in English, “Do you want a revolution? / Yeah, I want a revolution”. She growls over screeching guitars as a visual shows the aggressive confrontation of protesters and women cutting their hair, which is quite empowering.
FarAvaz Farvardin, “Naft To, Khoon-e-Man-e”
Farvardin is one of Iran’s most vocal artists, using all of her platforms, especially Instagram, to share information and raise awareness about the situation in Iran, although many of her posts end up being blocked. She posted “Your Oil, My Blood,” which she performs with a full orchestra, on Instagram only. In the song, Farvardin spins around, his breathtaking voice soaring over the music.
MadGal, “A song dedicated to the women of Iran”
From Iranian Billie Eilish via Toronto, MadGal puts all the inspiration of the current situation into this song, which is simply dedicated to the women of Iran – but in the Farsi title, MadGal also dedicates it to Shervin and Mahsa. According to the description, MadGal does not see the restrictions in Iran as a deterrent but rather as “an opportunity to take my power”. With her breathy voice, she declares in the chorus that she is free, moving on to “woman, life, freedom” and how she too is Mahsa Amini.
“Ghasam be Zan va Azadi (Soroode Enghelabi)”
This 40-second short film takes the Islamic Republic’s anthem “Be Pish” and turns it on its head. The title means “Swear to Women and Freedom” and it cleverly changes the words that have been attributed to the fundamental elements of the Islamic Revolution, replacing them with words centered on women. Specifically written for Mahsa Amini, it has been sung by a range of artists, including the self-proclaimed ‘metal goddess of Persia’, Haniye Kian. Perhaps the most powerful version of this song is this split-screen video, with a group of face-painted women singing the song in unison in the lower half and gruesome images of brutality towards women in the upper half , interspersed with those now familiar. from Amini.
Mehdi Yarrahi, “Soroode Zan”
Another very recent song, this one simply translates to “Woman’s Anthem”. Its tone sounds a lot like the military chants of the Shah’s regime, but the message is quite the opposite. The song’s central theme is a call for freedom and independence, with a few provocative lines declaring: “We say we don’t want a king, a beggar comes and becomes a leader/ The blood in our veins is a gift for our nation/ We say we don’t want a king, a mullah comes and becomes a leader.
Dariush, “Be Samte Farda”
One of the most popular Iranian singers of all time, Dariush, 71, shows why his draw is timeless in this heartbreaking yet hopeful song, ‘Toward Tomorrow’. A love song to Iran that speaks to the wounded country and its silence, Dariush asks when the country will be ready to speak for history and for the future. Bringing together elements of traditional Iranian songs with orchestral sounds and modern dance beats, it’s Dariush’s plea – “My country, speak, speak for peace and equality” – that takes this song to the next level. .
Toomaj, “Meydoone Jang”
Iranian rapper Toomaj has been fearlessly speaking out for quite some time on all social media, garnering the most attention via Instagram. His most recent rhymes on “Battlefield” have Toomaj flowing over eerie rhythms that nod to classic Iranian percussion and string instruments, filtering them through crisp production. Its rapid fire is precise and threatening, warning the powers that be in Iran that all manner of disgruntled people are coming to this battlefield, “lining up like cartridges.”
Shahin Najafi, “Hashtadia”
Proponents of the Islamic Revolution have good reason to distrust rap and hip-hop more than other forms of Western music. Najafi’s unrestrained words went wild like machine gun fire in this song, “The 80s,” which is what Iranians call Generation Z (because they were born in the 1380s in the Iranian calendar). The song is blocked on Instagram for “sensitive content”, possibly because of the violent images from Iran. In it, Najafi says what everyone thinks, using a proliferation of Iranian swear words and phrases to explain how the Islamic Republic made him feel. He spits with so much venom that even his unprofane words sound dirty – and that, in itself, is a release.
Amir Tataloo, PUTAK, Soheil Khodabandeh, Reza Pishro — “Enghelab Solh”
Louder than an Iranian rapper, there are four – especially those voices, which are intimidating in their truth. Sounding like American headliners with heavily tuned vocals, this contrasting combination of prolific and popular poets paints a distinct picture of what it is right now in Iran. They pronounce the name of Mahsa Amini in their angry raps, which call for a “peaceful revolution”. The female voice of Bahar Atish, which intervenes halfway through the song, tempers all the aggressiveness.
Kiosk, “Zan Zendegi Azadi”
The Iranian group Kiosk collaborated with about twenty singers to create this beautiful song which revolves around the protest slogan “Woman, life, freedom”. “Zan Zendegi Azadi” puts an artistic spin on protest footage in this raw video that is as inspiring as it is violent.
Gola, “Hagham (it’s my right)”
In this powerful song, Gola says bluntly that she’s done with the hijab and it’s her right not to wear it anymore. She rejects all the reasoning behind the hijab and has no interest in going to heaven if the road is strewn with fear and oppression. She puts a strong point saying: “You who are so afraid of my hair / Who is the weakest? Just before “Hagham”, Gola released “Ma Ziadim (We are many)” referring to opponents of the Iranian regime. His songs come with a convenient English translation, making them easily accessible to everyone.
Abjeez, “Forgive Us”
Abjeez, or “sisters” Safoura and Melody Safavi, dedicates “Forgive us” to the “brave young people of Iran who sacrifice their lives for freedom,” according to their Instagram caption. Complex and layered, the beautiful song, which is sung in English, speaks in part to the rest of the world, asking them to be the voice of the Iranian people.
Sevdaliza, “The Freedom of Woman’s Life”
This minimalist song emphasizes the lyrics with a clean backing track reminiscent of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner”. The song includes samples of women using the title phrase in their speech. It also features a captivating AI-powered video that depicts many women digitally melting and transforming in the most unsettling ways.
“Be Named Dokhtarane Sarzameene Aftab”
“In the Name of the Daughters of the Land of the Sun” may be anonymous, but it pledges its allegiance to the women of Iran and all that they have been through – not just lately, but for over 40 years. The video contains a faithful line-by-line translation of the English (and Farsi) lyrics overlaid with footage of current events in Iran. All the words are powerful, but the one that hits the hardest is: “For the locks of hair of the girls of the revolution”.