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Mozhdah Jamalzadah

Afghan pop singer stands up for women

Mozhdah Jamalzadah is finding ways to insert politics into the commercial world of Afghan pop. Jamalzadah writes lyrics with her…

By Erin Empey , in Culture , on April 14, 2009 Tags: , , , , , ,

Mozhdah Jamalzadah
Mozhdah Jamalzadah: 'A new breed of Afghan woman'

Mozhdah Jamalzadah is finding ways to insert politics into the commercial world of Afghan pop.

Jamalzadah writes lyrics with her father, an Afghan refugee in Vancouver who is working with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.  He helps her craft strongly political messages in Farsi that tackle topics from violence against women to Afghan patriotism.

“My music is mainly political,” she says.  “Every aspect of it, every song that’s been released, I try to make the lyrics have meaning.  The songs are not the typical love songs you get on everybody’s CD.”

One of her recent videos with an Iranian singer named Kami resulted in death threats because she says that intercultural relationships are frowned upon within her community.

“She represents a new breed of Afghan woman,” says Qasim Rasi, a Vancouver-based web developer.  “It’s not that Afghan women have never sung before – we have had some grand masters.  But she is the new voice of the younger movement. A lot of people have embraced her, and she also has been met with opposition from conservative Afghans.”

A family affair

Jamalzadah is one of few Afghan musicians coming out of Vancouver. The community is small, with about 7,000 members of Afghan descent, compared to 60,000 in Toronto. Jamalzadah knows her background and song content create tensions within her own community.

She moved to Canada with her family as a political refugee from Afghanistan at five years of age. Her family settled in Vancouver where she studied voice at the BC Conservatory of Music and once made a failed attempt at Canadian Idol.

AfghanBuzz, the popular website run from Burnaby that launched Mozhdah's career.
AfghanBuzz, a popular website run from Burnaby, launched Mozhdah's career

But it wasn’t until a chance meeting with Rasi, developer of a Vancouver-based entertainment website, AfghanBuzz.com, that she decided to take singing seriously.  Rasi created a MySpace page and promoted her on his website.

“I didn’t know that anybody would even be interested in listening to my stuff and all of a sudden I got 200 hits a day on Myspace,” says Jamalzadah.

Her career is now operated as an independent family-run business.  Her father offers creative input while her mother and brothers handle management and promotions.  So far she has released a number of singles and has just completed her debut album, which will be available through iTunes later this month.

They are still deeply affected by the turmoil in Afghanistan.  Her father joined the Canadian Forces following Canada’s invasion of Afghanistan because he still feels a profound connection to his homeland.  He is a cultural adviser and is stationed there another six months.  She says he feels that he has a duty to go back there and make a difference.

Challenging the status quo

Jamalzadah is also trying to make a difference, with music as her platform.  Her most political song is Dukhtare Afghan, which is about influential women poets and freedom fighters.  During a Persian New Year’s concert last month in Los Angeles, she dedicated the song to women’s rights in Afghanistan, addressing 10,000 people.

“I dedicated that song to those girls who were attacked by acid while going to school in Khandahar,” she says.  “It actually says I’m a girl, I’m an Afghan girl, don’t break my honour, don’t break my wings.  Leave me be.”

She is particularly frustrated by proposed restrictions on women’s rights in Afghanistan’s that would force women to submit to sex with their husbands and require permission to leave the home.

“I am beyond furious.  I’m just – I’m so angered by it,” she said.  “For our own President to not even feel anything towards his own Afghan females, I feel like in their eyes, a female is like a piece of trash.  If she has no say, if her husband is allowed to rape her anytime he wants, who do they go to?”

Her other resistance involves a video with a popular Iranian singer that shows the fully clothed duet holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes.  It is tame by western top-forty standards, and quite popular with young Iranians and Afghans.

However it has generated criticism, prompting a video defence from the two.  Jamalzadah says one person even wrote her through Facebook and told her she should be shot for what she’s doing.

“So when I threatened to report him to CSIS he replied ‘Please please please don’t report me.  I apologize.'”

Rasi says she faces opposition because, “she wears normal clothes, like Western style clothes.  She’s a bit liberal in her beliefs, so for a lot of Afghans it’s fine, but there are some individuals who are conservatives.  Afghan culture has been a conservative culture, and people have been unwilling to change for a long time.”

Looking forward

Jamalzadah is criticised for wearing Western style clothes

When Afghan male singers have provocatively dressed female dancers in the background of their videos, it does not generate much controversy.  Jamalzadah attributes the different standard to the fact that the girls are not Afghan.

“To these people that’s fine because they’re not Afghan.  But for me as an Afghan girl to do that and sing at the same time, it’s really freaky for some people,” she says.

Jamalzadah says she wants to play in Afghanistan, but that may be difficult to achieve anytime soon.  Her former producer, Wahid Omid, was a celebrity in Afghanistan before the Taliban came to power.  He left his Vancouver home to play some shows there about five years ago, but returned early.

“I didn’t feel safe so I came back,” he says.

While she waits for the opportunity to play in her home country, Jamalzadah says her main goal is to use her music to push for women’s rights.

“My speeches are becoming more political,” she says.  “If I’m standing in front of 10,000 people with a mic in my hand I have the power to at least bring up the issue.”

Jamalzadah and Kami have announced plans to tour Europe and Dubai following the release of their new albums.

Comments


  • Letter to Jamalzadah,

    Thank you for your story on this informative website. I am a retired school teacher. I belong to a group of women who care about women being treated justly and with respect and dignity. While there are many justice issues to work for on behalf of women in our own country, we feel that we can also be counted on to care about how women are regarded in the rest of the world.

    We read and hear that the Afghan women do not want western help or advocacy – that our interest in their apparent plight to be ruled by suffocating Islamic law is self-serving. However, our women in Canada have no personal investment in standing up for Afghan women. Our interest is simply to treat all human beings as precious and deserving of fair and equal opportunities to men. I cannot think that Allah would not want women to blossom to their full potential. Koran Scripture does not indicate so either.

    If there is any interest at all in western women advocating for the rights of Afghan women to freedom of movement, freedom to achieve higher education and freedom to choose what happens to their bodies, then our group of women here in British Columbia, Canada are interested in lobbying ours and the Afghan governments to advance the cause of rights and freedoms of Afghan women. Please let us know how we can help.

    Most kindly,
    Joy Silver

  • A very funny article.. Too bad bragging is in our blood. Political songs… “sher bachaye afghani, maghroor-o khush zabaani”.. Not to mention that 70% of what she sang till now are Ahmad Zahirs songs.

  • I am a frequent visitor and viewer of Afghan websites and tv programs respectively.

    Based on what I have observed and heard about Mozhda and her musical career (if she has any) is that she copies and re-sings popular old Afghan songs from artists such as Ahmad Zahir with the help of Wahid mid, a local Afghan composer and artist here in Vancouver who did not make it any far, either.

    In fairness to the original Afghan artists whose hit songs she performs in her small shows, the fact is that she destroys these very songs that we all have fallen in love with for decades.

    It should also be noted that Mozhda has never been involved in any political aspects in Afghanistan whatsoever and nor has she done any humanitarian work… these are all false information provided to TheThunderbird.ca and the rest of the media outlets.

    Besides lacking the required musical talent in order to be titled “an artist”, Mozhda sadly is not gifted with a pleasant natural voice either.

    Mozhda’s failure to meet the minimum talent requirement in Canadian Idol preliminary (rejected by all 3 judges) is a testament of of the fact that she should stick to what she is good at: Makeup and modeling.

    Cosmetics, makeup and making up false tragic stories from Afghanistan with no musical talent can get you recognition in Canadian and Us media for a short period of time… until the truth is discovered.

    But again, any publicity is good publictity, right? We all have seen Britney do it, again and again!

  • Joy Silver wrote:
    We read and hear that the Afghan women do not want western help or advocacy – that our interest in their apparent plight to be ruled by suffocating Islamic law is self-serving.
    —————————————

    The statement is one example of the main reason why the world and Canada to be precise is losing the war in Afghanistan.

    It is the ignorance of confusing politics and cultire with religion.

    Joy, the ‘strict’ Islamic law you are referring to has nothing to do with the treatment of women throughout the Islamic world.

    Karzai, the democratic president supported by Canada and the rest of the world, has recently introduced the so called ‘acceptable rape’ law to get more votes from the cultural and religious extremists in the parliament… what is that got to do with Islam?

    Nowhere you will read in the Quran that a Muslim man should force his wife for sex and that she has to put up with it – that is sheere cultural ignorance that has existed in Afghanistan and surrounding South Asian countries for centuries.

  • Mozhdah Jamalzadah exaggerates her relevance and notoriety in the Afghan community. She further exaggerates the so called criticism she has supposedly received by “conservative Afghans” simply to play into western stereotypes and paint herself as some heroine, brave against an oppressive culture. In reality I doubt too many Afghans give much thought to Mozhdah Jamalzadah or her collection of cover songs. She is simply a carpetbagger, an opportunist and her false claims and exaggerations are an affront to Afghans.

  • I honestly don’t want to sound unaccommodating because I support any afghan singer that is young and wants to be creative.. I support valy, arash, shekib hamadard and many other young singers. But I don’t see any work based on which I support you and listen to your music. I hope u read this. Most of your songs are copy and are Ahmad zahir’s songs. The other half of are songs that talks about shir bachey afghan.

    If you would like to share one of your songs with political messages, I would love to listen to it. I really do. I support afghan women and I understand their hardship and what they are going through.. I am a political science student trying to get my masters and my future plans are to go back to Afghanistan and do something about it.

    What dispirit me is women like yourself and vida samadzai. I don’t want to talk about vida here but. Yourself… If you dress decent and work on your singing instead of having interviews such as this. And through your actions and personality portray your messages. It not only going to attract afghans to your music but also you will gain more support for your cause. You are basically making a fool out of yourself right now considering your previous unbearable work which doesn’t portray anything but how bad of a singer you are..

  • As much as I wish the info that was provided by Mojhda was true but unfortunelty its not. First of all she needs to come up with her own music before she could even claim those songs she has copied from other afghans singer is about afghan women. An artist needs to come up with her music, lyrics or songs in order to stand up for something. As an Afghan i dont appreciate another indiviual making fun of other poor afghan women suferring back home in order to get some more publicity. Whoever did this article should have got their facts rights!!!!

    Mojhda is just a pretty face nothing more. She considers herself an aritist, shame on her. When she comes up with ATLEAST one song of her own then i would take her seriously. She should stick to Modeling, not singing.

  • Hi,

    As an Afghan girl, I totally understand where Mozdah is coming from. We are constantly under the watchful eye of our critical-gossipy Afghan community. Let’s be real here, she is slammed for wearing clothes that she wears (even though I’m sure the critics own female family members dress in a similar fashion). Futhermore, why the hell does she get death threats when Afghan male singers have been collobrating with Iranian and Tajik singers and face no criticism whatsoever. I’m so sick of this double standard.

    While Afghan men drool over American singers like Britney Spears, Iranian Sepideh and Tajik Shabnam Soraya, they have to call out their own Afghan sister for doing the same? All I have to say is shame….

  • Maryam jan i understand where you are coming from.. and trust me I am not one of those male who hold such views.. I don’t even listen to Britiney spears or shabnam soraya or any other none afghan female singers..or none afghan music period..I don’t support anyone who would think about killing an artist whether it is male or female..my only problem with what she said was that she hasn’t proved herself yet.. she doesn’t even have her own songs.. she doesn’t even speak good dari let alone her being a singer.. You can’t expect me to support and like crap simply because it is from afghan singer.. i support Hangama, wajia and even seeta qasimi who i think is the future of our music.. I am doing this because of their work . and they don’t go in t.v or websites saying crap like this without proving their selves first..

    I give her my two cents advise and that was to watch what she wears.. and if she wears decent clothes and have decent actions while imporving her singing.. she could gain alot of support not only for her music but also for her Cause..I have no problem with what she wears.. it is her life…

  • All i gotta say is this girl has made soo many afghans proud..
    I give her so much credit, for stepping up and taking on this challange. Her music is very good, she has abit of everthing in her song. Her new song, dukhtare afghan is AMAZING. I was blown away by that song of hers. When i compare her to some other afghan girls who have tried to do the same, mozhdah is so much stronger than them, She is not one bit insecure and that fact that she has all the freedom she needs but yet she fighting for freedom for other afghan women makes her a great human being. People need to stop hating on her, just cuz their jealouse of her doesnt mean they need to get all cocky. I can go on about her, but my main point is she a great person:)

  • Hi !
    Dear Mozhdah Jan i leave you this message from Kabul, Afghanistan and i hope you will read my message. Mozhdah jan iam one of your special Fans, and i like you realy i specially like with your clips you have nice clips. and i hope you will do nice better than. just i wanna know that will you come to Kabul for a big Concert? if yes please inform me i will come to your concert.
    thanks alot Bye Muzhdah jan.
    Your faithfully Hashmat Khan Ahmadi.

  • Well, well, how cold and ignorant can people be, why such a cold attitude towards a human being who is merely following her dreams? How many of us have the guts to do what she is doing… not many. In fact I challenge those critics to do something better. I know nothing I say will even change your mind, because I believe people that have that much hatred towards someone they don’t even know is cold and sad. Perhaps even jealous… If you don’t like it, don’t put your precious energy into it. This world needs more people like Mozhda, who works probably harder then most people. Keep it up Mozhda. And Shame, Same on all the negative comments… go do some charity work if you want to make yourself useful.

  • I think the people who are insulting Mozhdah are missing the point. Okay, so many songs on her first c.d. are covers of Ahmad Zahirs songs, do you not recall that he too did some covers of other artists music? It’s her first c.d. and she is one of the first afghan women to push the boundaries that the taliban enforced on Afghans for 6 long, miserable years. That’s what the main relevance of her significance is. Now when people think of Afghan women they will not automatically think of submissive abused women with no voice, instead they will think of a girl who broke the stereotypes and made her voice heard. It is a very difficult thing to be the one to push the limits and she has opened the door for many other girls to follow their dreams as well. She is brave, she cares about her background and her people which is something you haters don’t do. Why don’t you go write her some songs if you want her to sing something original? And to the person who said that the fact that
    Canadian Idol didn’t choose her proves she is unskilled, well I just read that they were not looking for someone who had “youtube success” already. I am supportive of her because I am sick of the stereotypes everyone on planet earth has about Afghanistan.

  • i love you my sweet sister mozhda jan , i wish i see you just one time from near , i like your song and i wish i can be like you .
    kiss you my mozhda jan
    your afghan sister
    roya

  • I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE YOU MOZHDAH!!!! I love all of your songs, your music videos, your clothes, too! Please email me!!!! You are the beginning of a change in Afghanistan. I’m an 11 year old fanof your, and am a Dukhtar e Afghan!!! ( Afghan Girl)! Bye.

  • heyyy Mozhdah jannn
    i’m a 16 afghan girl 🙂
    n i juss wanted to let u know how much i love your music n vidz

    n i’m one of ur biggest fanz 😉
    so keep it up
    ilyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?

    xoooo

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