Paradise Souri is no stranger to struggle. The 27-year-old Afghani rapper has been beaten to the brink of death by 10 men for her outspoken views and refusal to wear a hijab — instead choosing to wear a baseball cap to cover her head in keeping with Islamic tradition. She has had to flee her home country twice in order to save her own life, with threats of rape and murder so frequent that she no longer keeps track of the number.
Souri and her fiancee, the rapper known as Diverse, have been forced to relocate to Berlin, Germany, in order to protect their safety alongside more than 1 million immigrants who have fled from the Middle East. The upside of relocation is that they are able to reach a broader audience with their feminist messages, creating their art in a less hostile environment.
Hailing from a country where 87 percent of women have endured physical or sexual violence, and most likely more offenses that will never go reported, Paradise Souri is a desperately needed Afghani voice. Souri’s family left Afghanistan when she was a young child, but she returned after Taliban rule ended. With a love for Tupac, Eminem and Beyonce, Souri found kinship with Diverse.
Souri raps about equality alongside her fiancee in 143Band. The hip-hop group was formed in 2008 and has been going strong since then — despite threats against their lives — discussing topics like women’s rights and safety. The artists found it difficult to get their music played on Afghan media, but have found success through YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms.
“Herat is a very religious city,” says Diverse. “Sharia law forbids women to sing. The fact that we are not married was also a problem. Every time we’d try to go to a studio together, strangers would start following us.”
“Afghanistan is my country, but it is full of pain. Always waiting for another blast,” Souri raps in the video for “Nalestan”. Even on the set for her own music video, Souri was the target of verbal abuse from both men and women who disagreed with the idea of women creating music and had no problem letting her know just how they felt.
“We have rapped about the current situation in Afghanistan and, especially, two raps that we have made supporting women’s rights and safety. Some of the TV in Afghanistan would not broadcast our music. YouTube and Facebook have helped us to promote our music not only nationally, but internationally as well,” explained to Mashable in a 2013 interview.
“Generally, singing for females in Afghanistan is not acceptable to most people … When I am rapping, I am saying true things that some men do not want to hear. They hate to hear that I am encouraging women and informing them about their rights,” Souri said in a Guardian interview.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a singer, an artist, or a teacher,” said Souri. “If you are a woman in Afghanistan, you are a problem. I am speaking out and fighting for women who don’t have a voice.”