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Nadia Tehran and personal revolution: living on the borderlines in ‘Refugee’ video

05 Jul 2016

Nadia Tehran is punk beyond borders. Her music is loud, fast and angry, yet it is not devoid of theatre. Her distorted vocals in ‘Refugee’ break and open out into an atmospheric tide of Middle-Eastern samples as she intermittently croons “I’m a Refugee”, with both force and sweetness.

As an Irani woman with a penchant for passionate anti-authoritarian exclamations, who grew up in a conservative Swedish town, Nadia Tehran resonated with me (another loud-mouthed angry Irani woman who was born in a small, conservative Swedish town). Not only does Nadia Tehran offer a massive “f*ck you” to the Western respectability politics of immigration, but she also manages to both undermine the stereotypes of Iran, whilst simultaneously engaging with the nuanced issues of the mother country in her incredibly illegal video ‘Refugee’.

Nadia shows outsiders a snippet of the real Tehran, the markets, people and landmarks. Yet she also plays with exaggerated tableaux, where effeminate men wear chains, throw money from gilded chairs, dance and laugh and sip chai. Although Middle-Eastern men in mainstream media are constantly presented as hyper-masculine bearded terrorists, Nadia Tehran shows the reality of the reactionary nature of fashion in Iran, where designer chains and bald faces signify nonconformity in a country where external appearance is strictly monitored.

It is impossible to understand the full extent of the illegality of the video without having been to Iran; the second long shot of the police guard, Nadia singing on the street, Nadia’s hair uncovered – these moments reveal Nadia Tehran’s cheekiness, her desire to press buttons, yet she doesn’t portray a utopia. Despite the celebration, some faces have been pixelated out of the music video, presumably in fear of the Iranian government. The video manages to deftly and subtly capture the feeling of imprisonment that comes when one is caught between two opposing forces, one country where you are an “illegal immigrant”, and one where your roots nourished but your existence is denied.

Nadia Tehran offers a solution: to scream from the borderlines, to accept the liminal, to revolt. In Iran it is illegal for women to sing, so Nadia does so. The unapologetic image of Nadia Tehran’s uncensored, exultant song is revolutionary; she squares up to the camera, sips chai, blows ghelyoon smoke through her hijab and shouts “I am what I do and I do what I want”.

Stream Nadia Tehran’s EP, Life is cheap, death is free is now via Soundcloud.

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