Afghan Rapper Blends Traditional Tunes, Poetry
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
People in Afghanistan may host foreign troops, but many shun foreign influence, and they're deciding what they think about rap music. It's played by a homegrown music star. He raps in Dari, one of Afghanistan's languages, and his bootleg CDs fly off the shelves. But this is still considered Western music, and many of the country's religious leaders view this rapper, Bejan Zafarmal, as a traitor. They see him as part of a cultural invasion.
NPR's Soraya Saraddi Nelson reports from Kabul.
Mr. BEJAN ZAFARMAL (Afghan Rapper): (Singing) (Afghan spoken)
SORAYA SARADDI NELSON: On this afternoon at Kabul's medical school, Bejan Zafarmal's crew forgot his music. But no matter - Bejan wearing white and black camouflage and a baseball cap starts rapping a cappella. The graduating doctors go wild.
(Soundbite of cheering)
NELSON: The song is one of Bejan's newer ones, and quite political by Afghan standards.
Mr. ZAFARMAL: (Afghan spoken)
NELSON: At a friend's home in Kabul, Bejan sings more of the song about youth being fed up with politics and ineffective government. He raps: We respect our ancestors, but it's our turn to rule. Bejan, who is 28 and now a German citizen, says he's not looking to start a revolution, yet he wants to be revolutionary.
The son of a former Afghan diplomat, he says he's determined to give something back to his people. That's something he complains other Afghan singers living abroad rarely do. He wants to start a before and after school program for a thousand children. He wants to hand out free blankets to the homeless but he also wants money.
Bejan doesn't have a recording contract yet. Live performances, TV, radio and Internet are his venues. The day after his songs aired, thousand of bootleg CDs are cut and sold across Afghanistan for under a dollar a pop, of which he gets nothing.
Mr. ZAFARMAL: But I don't want to bring out my CD only for Afghanistan. I want to bring it international. I don't want to sell it for 60 afghani, I want to sell it for $24. You know, that's why I'm waiting.
NELSON: So far, he has waited two years. During that time, the artist, who draws inspiration from American rappers 50 Cent and the late Tupac Shakur, developed a huge following.
(Soundbite of song, "Black Eyes")
Mr. ZAFARMAL: (Afghan spoken)
NELSON: This song, a remake entitled "Black Eyes", is by far the Afghan's favorite. Bejan sings it with fellow Afghan Ariz Parviz(ph). It's about a guy who suspects the object of his affection has fallen for another man. He imagines her black eyes and curls beneath the opaque head-to-toe burqa, lyrics that senior Afghan judge Sadyaf Muslen(ph) says makes Bejan a danger to Afghan society.
Mr. SADYAF MUSLEN (Judge): (Through translator) I see it as an imposition of an alien culture on our culture.
NELSON: Muslen claims what Bejan does is as bad as prostitution.
(Soundbite of crowd)
NELSON: At the medical university where Bejan performed, student Mirwaiz Paheej(ph) agrees that rap doesn't belong in Afghanistan.
Mr. MIRWAIZ PAHEEJ (Medical Student): That is not a suitable kind of music for our country because we have other things here.
NELSON: Bejan says contrary to what his critics say, he's careful not to breech social and religious boundaries. But he's adamant that Afghanistan must modernize. He says his rap can help.
Mr. ZAFARMAL: If they really hear this music, it grows on your blood. And I think hip-hop is like a story, what the Afghan people need it right now.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. ZAFARMAL: (Singing in Afghan)
NELSON: It's a story his fans say they want him to keep telling. And Bejan says that critics or not, he will keep rapping, Afghan style.
Soraya Saraddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.
INSKEEP: NPR's Najib Shariffi(ph) contributed to this report.
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