THE TALE OF
BY SALOME MC
“Seven Climes Vol. 1” (Original: هفت اقلیم) is an Iranian Hip-Hop compilation album that features seven HipHop artists from seven different regions of Iran, who drop sociopolitical and philosophical verses in a language, dialect or accent that differs from the standard Farsi: Laki, Southern Lori, Arabic, Tati, Iranian Torkamani, Qashqai Turki and Isfahani.
But Seven Climes (Original: هفت اقلیم) is more than just an album. It is an on-going grassroots initiative that aims to present the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Iranian Hip-Hop scene, and connect regional communities through their common love for creating social changes through rap music. There will be future volumes, and the project will expand and take various forms.
To be honest, this album just happened, without much prior thought put into it; although looking back now, I can see that it’s been a long time coming.
It’s been a tradition for me to release an album every 3-4 years, usually as a reflection of a chapter of my life. I put Delirium (هذیان) out there after I graduated from Al-Zahra university in 2006. Paranoid Descent (هبوط) was released when the 2009 election protests combined with an untimely breakup (aren’t they all?) caused me to quit my job of three years and decide to leave Iran to pursue a master’s degree in Japan. I made I Officially Exist (هستم رسما) in 2013 after I finished graduate school in Japan, and decided to stay there to work and live. Fast forward to 2017, I released Excerpts from Unhappy Consciousness (ناخوشاگاه), after moving to Seattle from Japan the year before.
So, 2020 was going to be the year I work on my next album, this time delving into immigration, identity and motherhood. But as we all went knee deep into the Covid-19 pandemic, I just never quite was able to bring myself to work on it. And then the mass protests against police brutality and systemic racism started in the US, and gave me flashbacks to our protests in the streets of Tehran back in 2009: the tear gas and the milk, the batons and the blood and the broken right hand. All that sealed the deal: the next album was not happening. Projects like that requires an inward-looking state of mind that was not in the cards when so much was happening outward in the world.
But something else was brewing.
Seeing the Black Lives Matter movement gaining momentum in the US, I couldn’t help but think of the multi-ethnic societal structure back in Iran, and the complicated racial discrimination we still have despite co-existing for at least a millennium. I’m going to jump ahead a bit, and come back to this point later.
The Iranian Hip-Hop scene is wonderfully diverse, with each city/province having its own growing number of Hip-Hop artists and listeners. To me, as one of the handful of people who started the Iranian Hip-Hop scene in capital city of Tehran in early 2000s, this is beyond my wildest dreams. These micro-scenes offer something that the Tehran or LA-centered music cannot; they’re local, and in vernacular that feel closer to home to their audience than the capital or diaspora music.
It is so exciting!
…and a bit heartbreaking.
Let me explain.
For most of my 20-year-old Hip-Hop journey, I often talked about my American Hip-Hop influences like Immortal Technique, Paris Guerilla Funk and Talib Kweli, but never actually mentioned my first and most influential exposure to Hip-Hop. At least not until a few years ago. The first rap song I heard and loved was by a Turkish diaspora group from Germany, Cartel, in 1995, while living in Baku. I got my hands on their original cassette when visiting relatives in Turkey, and at 11 years old, it was the first album I ever owned. I’ve had that album memorized. I couldn’t wait for my parents to leave me alone at home so I could perform all the songs one after another in front of the mirror. This went on for years, and I didn’t actually listen to any American Hip-Hop until 1999.
Cartel only came up for the first time a couple of years ago for an interview, and I had an a-ha, moment then, thinking: that’s actually pretty cool, why didn’t I talk about this before? It hit me then that my relationship with my ethnic background is more complicated than I thought.
I am ethnically Turk, and having lived in Turkey and Azerbaijan due to my father’s job, I speak multiple Turkic dialects: Azerbaijani Turki and Turkish, as well as North-West Iranian Azari spoken by my grandparents. But I lived in Tehran during my childhood and formative years, and like most kids of my generation, I didn’t bring my parents’ language into my life outside home. As I said above, racial discrimination in Iran exists, and it’s complicated. Many great scholars and journalists have written about it so I’m not going to delve into the socio/political aspects of that. But what hasn’t been really talked about is how that reflects on the national Hip-Hop scene. The simplest example is my own experience: I didn’t feel safe enough to bring up my Turkish Hip-Hop influences until I was a thirty-something woman living in Japan. Another example is even more heart-breaking: I made one Turkish song in 2005 in collaboration with a rapper from Turkey, but did not distribute it within the Iranian Hip-Hop community (which was relatively small then). It’s hard to remember the mindset I had then, but I’m sure a part of me was scared of being ridiculed by other rappers around me, if not the audience. I distinctly remember a day one of my Tehrani rapper friends making fun of Raminem, a Turkish-Iranian rapper from Tabriz back in the days. I stayed silent.
So, as I went through this reflection period, my next project started forming in my mind: A compilation album bringing together rappers from different regions, celebrating the diversity in languages but also the unity of being agents of change through hip-hop. Naturally there’s a barrier between these scenes, linguistically at the very least, if not culturally. But as the ethnic tensions in the region grow in conjunction with the Islamic Government’s divisive policies and foreign actors’ fueling of separationism, I thought a symbolic movement bringing together rappers from different ethnic backgrounds and languages will make a good case for tolerance and co-existence within the Hip-Hop community, as well as the society itself. Additionally, it gives a glimpse into the rich cultural tapestry of Iran in the form of one the most prominent contemporary music styles originating in America: Hip-Hop. For me, this marriage symbolizes the possibility of peace between these two countries I call home. OK, OK, I know this last part sounds naive, but just let me have my “Imagine” moment here.
So back in summer of 2020, I issued an open-call on Instagram:
If you rap in any language, dialect or accent other than the standard Farsi, record a raw verse on your phone and email it to me along with its translation.
The open-call system was not new for me: I love creating platforms for newcomers who don’t have a wide network of connections. The Iranian Hip-Hop scene can get very clique-y, and the same people collaborate with each other over and over in a feedback loop. In an attempt to break this cycle, I’ve been giving open calls for collaborations for the past few years.
Well, the open-call for then-unnamed Seven Climes was well received and widely shared, and I got more than a hundred submissions. Many didn’t know my work and had seen the call from reshares of reshares, which was pretty exciting since I am a big fan of community projects that’s not about an individual.
Seven Climes was definitely turning into something of that sort.
After careful deliberation and communication, the artists – and therefore languages – featured in the album boiled down to seven. I say that in one breath, but the process wasn’t smooth sailing. Three Kurdish rappers dropped out one after another for personal reasons, and eventually the album ended up with no Kurdish songs, despite all my efforts. Two of the artists I shortlisted got Covid and dropped out. (They’re fine now). I was working with eleven rappers at some point and thought that would be the number of tracks in the album. But then there were six. I had to go back to submissions and bring someone in the last minute so the album would at least have seven tracks as an EP. And I guess that was faith, because through a public polling I had on Instagram around the same time, the project name was chosen: Haft Eghlim. Seven Climes. Boom. Oh, did I mention that I did a lot of public polls during the production? I wanted the project to be a grassroots initiative, something that people feel like they’re a part of; so many decisions like the album name, details of distribution etc. were made by voting.
So here’s the best part. Let me introduce the seven artists I collaborated with:
Goamata, a brilliant young Laki rapper from Khorram Abad who is a great lyricist as well as an astounding chopper.
Sibot, a Qashqai Turk who debuted with this album and is an amazing learner and risk taker.
Javid from Takestan who raps in Tati, and this album was his debut too.
Sokoutism, a young rapper from Ahwaz who raps in Arabic with his very distinct voice and surprised me with his ultra-political verses.
Sen, a Turkmen rapper from Golestan who managed to collaborate despite being a few weeks away from immigrating to another country.
Iman Tarek, an Isfahani rapper who also runs a HipHop music website and writes reviews.
Kooh’Gell, a badass Luri rapper from Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province with a strong penchant for epic Hip-Hop.
And the Seven Climes Vol. 1 Track List:
1- Goamata – Zam (Wound- Laki Language)
2- Sibot – Gejalar (The Nights- Qashqai Turki Language)
3- Javid – Virij (Run, Tati Language)
4- Sokoutism – Enfetah (Free-Thinking, Ahwazi Arabic)
5- Sen – Oghlan (Boy, Iranian Turkmen Language)
6- Iman Tarek – Ghafes (Cage, Isfahani Dialect)
7- Kooh’Gell – Bashoh (Eagle, Southern Luri Language)
I haven’t promoted my own sole projects much, and sometimes actively ran away from the task. But as a one-man-army doing all my own work, I never owed anyone anything. However, for Seven Climes, I feel an overwhelming, unfamiliar responsibility to do everything I can so the featured artists are heard; otherwise it will be a disservice to their enthusiasm, and the hardships they endured to get this project done.
That’s the main reason you’re reading this personal essay.
If you can think of any ways to help this project be heard further, feel free to contact me.
Thanks for reading,