Young people’s tough struggle against the rigid rules of a government of old men. Music and a lifestyle that is strictly forbidden but unstoppable.
The “Rapping in Tehran” documentary focuses on the lifestyle and activities of Rap singers in Iran. It has now been a few years that Persian Rap music has become popular among the youth and teenagers, and has gathered an audience of a few million. Despite this, the production and distribution of Persian Rap music are illegal in Iran and the singers of this genre are unable to produce and sell their music legally in stores like the other genres of music such as Persian Classical Music and Pop. Hence the life and activities of Rappers in Iran are secret and the fact that the Rappers have no access to the legal music market in Iran and the fact that they cannot benefit financially from this market has caused the Rappers to create new methods in order to produce and distribute their work. The manner of conduct of Iranian police towards the singers of Persian Rap and the studios who record their illegal work, the holding of secret Persian Rap concerts, the contestants’ fear of being identified and arrested by the police, the use of foul language and singing sexy lyrics which are not compatible with the religious and traditional society of Iran, and the increasing role of the internet as a media used to distribute Persian Rap music, are all the consequences of this type of music becoming illegal in Iran, which have been considered in the “Rapping in Tehran” documentary”. In this film, the director and his camera team try to clarify the atmosphere surrounding this subject in Iran by being present in these illegal studios which are running secretly and interviewing the singers of this style. It is important to note that the “Rapping in Tehran” documentary was unable to obtain the license to be broadcast in Iran.
If there is any music style in the world to which the term ‘underground’ can be justifiably applied, it is rap in puritanical Iran. Since the beginning of the 1990s, practically every kind of pop music has been forbidden in the Islamic Republic, but the state security forces crack down particularly hard on rappers. Their outfits, modeled on Western idols, their lyrics about identity conflicts and sexual deprivation or the fact that young women sing about themselves and their problems are reason enough to keep raiding the few studios in town and closing down the websites of the most famous singers and bands. The only consequence is that every closed down site spawns four new ones, the studios that are closed in one place re-open somewhere else and become more attractive to the scene. “Rapping in Tehran” is about young people’s tough struggle against the rigid rules of a government of old men whose resistance in the long run will be in vain. For the music keeps spreading: via the Internet, through exiled rappers who broadcast their lyrics into the country from Dubai, via mobile phones or secret parties. In any case, the courage with which they insist on the right to lead their own lives is cause for admiration. MH (DOK Leipzig, 2009))
How many Iranian rappers can you remove in one single day, if you are convinced that hip hop should be forbidden? Close to a hundred, if you are as efficient as the Iranian police – but in a country where youth is irreversibly taking over the country, the result is simply that hundreds of new rappers are seeking out the illegal studios in Tehran to try their hand at the difficult and controversial art of Persian rap. ‘Rapping in Tehran’ follows the dangerous cat-and-mouse play and gives us a unique, kaleidoscopic look at the underground culture that is Iranian hip hop – underground despite the fact that several million young Iranians are listening to the music today. The authorities are upholding their ban and rappers are continuing to organize illegal concerts, from which the film gets its unforgettable, life-affirming images of young girls in headscarves and heavy makeup dancing away to the heavy beats of the music. ‘Rapping in Tehran’ is a unique contemporary document – and news from the front of a musical youth rebellion. (CPH: DOX, 2009)
Rapping in Tehran, by Hassan Khademi, offers a unique view at the underground culture of Iranian hip hop music. Although millions of young Iranians listen to rap music today this genre is still strictly forbidden in the country. Visiting illegal concerts, the camera records unforgettable scenes of young Iranians dancing to the heavy beat of that music, thus expressing their rebellion against oppression. (Zagreb DOX. 2010)
“Their lyrics about identity conflicts and sexual deprivation, the fact that young women sing about themselves and their problems, are reason enough to keep raiding the few studios in town and closing down the websites of the most famous singers and bands,” “The only consequence is that every closed down site spawns four new ones, the studios that are closed in one place re-open somewhere else and become more attractive to the scene. The music keeps spreading: via the Internet, through exiled rappers who broadcast their lyrics into the country from Dubai, via mobile phones or secret parties.” (CIMM, 2010)
“Rapping in Tehran” (37 min.), reports on the underground hip-hop scene in the capital of Iran. Director Hassan Khademi, a sociology grad student, adds a title explaining it took five months before kids trusted him. Shot in illegal studios and at an outdoor concert, this timely video was completed in October 2009. Raids and arrests drive some rappers to record in Dubai and points west. Others distribute their music via the Internet. Khademi samples revealing verse: “We will drink and will dance for joy until daybreak!” raps one woman. A man proclaims: “The civilization of Iranians is at danger/We are all soldiers ready to serve/I won’t let any foreigners talk about us.” (Chicago SUN-TIMES) Spiky, big hairstyles are more prevalent than slams against Iran’s theocrats. Khademi lets viewers draw their own conclusions, but more pointers on local cultural politics would add perspective on this youth scene.
- International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film, Germany 2009
- Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, Denmark 2009
- Peace on Earth Film Festival, Chicago, USA 2010
- ZagrebDox International Festival of Documentary Films, Croatia 2010
- The Chicago International Movies and Music Festival, Chicago, USA 2010-Special Jury Award
- Festival Filmer la Musique, Paris, France 2010
- World music and Independent Film Festival, Washington, USA 2010
- United Nations Association Film Festival UNAFF, California, USA 2010
- International underground hip hop festival “Displaced Expressions”, Denmark 2010
- DUKE CITY DOCFEST, New Mexico, USA 2010
- Docutah – Southern Utah International Documentary Film Festival, USA 2010
- Iranian Film Festival – San Francisco, USA, 2010.
- Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival, Bay City, USA, 2010
- Artivist Film Festival, Hollywood, California, 2010
- SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival, Rhode Island, USA, 2011
- Noor Film Festival, Los Angeles, USA, 2011
- Third World Indie Film Festival, San Jose CA, USA, 2011
- Chagrin Falls International Documentary Film Festival Ohio, USA, 2010
- Park City Film Music Festival, Utah, USA,2011
Interview with Cinema without border
Hassan Khademi, the Iranian director of Rapping in Tehran, is a graduate with MA of Arts from the University of Tehran and has conducted several research projects about Iranian underground music.
Hassan khademi’s short film, Rapping in Tehran, has participated in several international film festivals such as International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film, Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival and Peace on Earth Film Festival-Chicago.
Cinema Without Borders: How did you come up with the idea of Rapping in Tehran?
Hassan Khademi: I am a social researcher and I have conducted research in the field of Iranian youths and also young subcultures in Iran and I’ve written some papers about them. During my research, I found that Persian rap is the most popular music style among young Iranians. I should say that Persian rap is something more than a music genre; it is a social phenomenon.
CWB: How challenging was it to shoot this film? Did you face any problems and limitations?
HK: Since underground music is illegal in Iran and underground singers, mostly Persian rappers, sometimes may face legal repercussions, these groups are not easily accessible and it is actually very difficult to find them. It took me 5 months until I could convince them to take part in my film.
CWB: Did you know all the bands and performers beforehand, or you did you get to know them over the shooting period?
HK: Before the shooting period, I had studied about all the important Persian rappers and I had listened to most of their works. During the creation of the film, I got to meet with them and made friendships which still last to this day.
CWB: How did you manage to gain the trust of the artists performing in Rapping in Tehran?
HK: It was such a difficult job! The artists were particular in how they were filmed because they all feared of getting identified by the police, which would be troublesome for them. We tried to accommodate all of their requests to ensure their safety and peace of mind.
CWB: Did you have a visual style in mind when you started “Rapping in Tehran”, or would you say that your vision came through in post-production?
HK: I had a screenplay before shooting. But, like most documentary films, the events which happened during shooting changed the story of the film. For example, my film ends with the unwanted exile of some of the pioneering Persian rappers while, in the beginning, I hadn’t prospected this event. I can say my film was produced during the editing process.
CWB: Were there any of the artists that did now allow you to have them in Rapping in Tehran and were there any scenes that you liked that you had to remove from the final cut?
HK: In this film, I went to the most talented Persian rappers, and the most important ones were ready to cooperate with me. A couple of them said they would only participate if I agreed to exclude other rappers because of their competition; a condition that I didn’t accept.
In terms of film scenes, I should say I loved some of them but I had to omit them because they didn’t correlate with the main story or they would create trouble for the rappers.
CWB: How did the artists react after seeing Rapping in Tehran?
HK: The musicians who have watched the film are very pleased. They are happy to be portrayed in a positive light and they enjoy how they are represented.
CWB: What is the current state of Iranian underground music and how do you see its future?
HK: Underground music is the most popular music genre amongst Iranian youths. My recent survey, which I conducted for a government organization in Iran, has confirmed my research results and also verified my understanding of underground Persian rap during the shooting period.
It is difficult to foresee the future of this genre, but it is obvious for me that Persian rap in Iran is not the cause, but it is the effect. It doesn’t matter if the effect is Persian rap or anything else, as long as the cause is still there.
CWB: Are you working on any new projects?
HK: Yes. I am in the research period of a film about Iranian clergies.
CWB: How can interested individuals watch Rapping in Tehran?
HK: Although my film cannot get permission to be shown in Iran, I have shown it in private gatherings with students, teachers, and other Iranian elites—even to some cultural policymakers of the Iranian government