November 13, 2007 / 3:09 PM / 11 years ago

Medieval Sufi poet all the rage in Iranian rap

LONDON, Nov 13 (Reuters Life!) - Baggy jeans, baseball caps and 13th century Farsi poetry may not appear to be natural bedfellows, unless you are an Iranian rap artist.

Iranian rappers from around the world gathered in London for the first time this month to rap in Farsi using the lyrics of 13th century Persian Sufi poet Mawlana Jalaludin Rumi.

Young men and women packed London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall to hear artists like 23-year-old Farinaz rap the words of one of Iran’s most revered poets to a pounding hip hop beat.

Born in Iran and now living in the Netherlands, the track-suited, lip-pierced Farinaz said Rumi remained a role model for today’s young Iranians.

“He speaks of love for people, love for God, love of oneself and his poems can be nicely mixed with rap.”

The London concert was a showcase for Iran’s underground hip hop scene which has grown in popularity over the past five years despite the fact that Western music is illegal in Iran.

“Rapping in Iran is very widespread because it’s the easiest way for young people to talk about their feelings and their daily life,” concert organizer Behzad Bolour said.

“Rumi’s poetry is very open-minded&It’s very modern, it’s very funky, it’s very surreal. It’s very rhythmic.”

Classical Persian musician Ali Nourbakhsh, 25, plays in a band of four traditional musicians and one rapper and says he likes Rumi because the poet keeps things simple.

“Rumi just says ‘I’m drunk, you’re crazy - how can we go on?”‘ Nourbakhsh said.

Some of the performers who are shy, retiring and hesitant to talk to reporters off stage come roaring to life once they begin performing, striking defiant poses and belting out lyrics protesting the politics at home.

“You can arrest us, beat us, kill us but we will still say our piece,” said Afra, a brooding 24-year-old.

Feisty female rapper Persia, born in Iran but brought up in the north of England raps with a strong Mancunian accent but sings about freedom of speech in Iran.

“For all the women of Iran who can’t open their mouths, I’m saying everything I want to say,” Persia said.

Reveal is a 23-year-old student of classical Persian literature who speaks with a soft cockney accent and for whom Rumi is Iran’s most accessible poet.

“A lot of villages in Iran, even though they are illiterate, they’re very familiar with his poetry&it’s got this everyman element in it.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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