Farhood left his country to escape the government – now he's igniting the underground with his politically-charged rap
Liverpool-based rapper Farhood came to the city after fleeing his home country, Iran, in 2011. His political activities had forced him out of the country, and for the next few years he faced struggles with immigration, rejected claims for asylum, homelessness, unemployment, and at one point even imprisonment, before being able to settle. Yet these experiences have only strengthened his resolve as a rapper. Farhood’s lyrics, delivered in Farsi with a fiery intensity, are critical of the Iranian government and the power structures that shape the country. His debut EP, Tike Tike, combines these searing criticisms with more positive calls for change and support for the LGBT movement and women’s rights in the Middle East.
Tike Tike was produced by Liverpool experimental artists Kepla and Ling, who Farhood met almost by chance. The two introduced him to underground producers like Evian Christ, Nguzunguzu and Visionist, and together they ended up producing tracks that match melancholic and atmospheric production with a forceful, almost grimy edge. “I wasn’t really into grime at that time,” says Farhood over the phone in heavily accented but otherwise impeccable English, “I knew some big names like Skepta and Dizzee Rascal, but I wasn’t educating myself in grime. They (Kepla and Ling) were thinking that the way I rap would sound really good over grime beats.”
Read our interview with Farhood and listen to the Tike Tike EP in full below.
When did you come to the UK?
Farhood: I came to the UK five years ago. I came straight to Liverpool. There are loads of problems in Iran, especially religious problems. (The government) won’t let us do what we really want to do. We’ve been in demonstrations in Iran, which were peaceful demonstrations, to talk and ask about our freedom and rights. Obviously you get into trouble, and all the things I wanted to there I couldn’t. Music is abandoned in Iran, especially underground music – (things) like rock, metal and rap are just illegal. If you wanna rap there, you can do that, but you can’t say the things that you really want to say – you can say the things the government wants to say. I engaged in a lot of political activity in Iran that got me and my brother into trouble. But to be honest, I don’t want to talk about it a lot, because my family are still back home and I can’t take the risk, really.
How come you ended up in Liverpool?
Farhood: I had to leave Iran (and) wanted to go to the USA, because my mum’s uncle and cousins are there. At the time, I was only 18. My family tried to send me to the USA, but the people who were (organising) for me to go took money off my family and they left me here. So I found myself in the UK. I had to go to prison with murderers and drug dealers, for no reason really.
Why were you sent to prison?
Farhood: At that time they used to put some of the asylum seekers and migrants in prison because of not having documents, or using false documents. It was by chance – some of my friends never had this problem, but they sent me and a couple of other people to a prison called Lancaster Farms. I was there for four months, just because I came (to the UK) to save myself. After that I found myself in Liverpool, where I’m still living now.
What happened after you left prison?
Farhood: They sent me to a hostel after four months. I’d been in that hostel and I’d been waiting for them to process my case. They refused my case after less than a year. I found myself in the streets with no right to work and no accommodation, and with such broken English. I couldn’t do anything, really. They’re not deporting you, because they think Iran is not safe, but at the same time they’re not giving you right to remain or right to work – so they leave you in the street with absolutely nothing. For a couple of years, I had to work illegally or get support off other people. After four years, I did a fresh claim. The claim I made was very different, and they accepted it. It’s embarrassing – I had to convert myself to Christianity, when I’m an atheist. It’s taking advantage of migrants who have no power.
“They sent me and a couple of other people to a prison called Lancaster Farms. I was there for four months, just because I came (to the UK) to save myself. After that I found myself in Liverpool, where I’m still living now”
Can you tell me about your lyrics on the EP?
Farhood: In Iran, it’s all about poetry really. I write poems with a mixture of traditional Persian poem language and very modern street language. The first track is called ‘Koochike’, which means ‘the youngest’. It’s about someone – not me – telling the story of me and my brother back home. The second track is called ‘Meshki’, which means ‘darkness’ or ‘black’. It’s the saddest track on the EP. Most of the Iranian people liked it more, actually; they’re mostly into quite sad music. It’s talking about the darkness of living in Iran, and how it affects your life. The third track is called ‘Taghir’, which means ‘change’. The track is (saying), ‘OK, here are the problems we’ve got – how can we change it?’
The last track (‘Bodo’) is talking about the genre – it’s very different to the other tracks. The Iranian hip hop scene is massive. It’s the only hope for many people that we can change our culture and fix our society for the next generation. The new generation don’t believe in any political activities, but they do listen to rap. In Iran, rap is not really about expensive cars and loads of girls, because these things are not really happening in Iran. There are artists who make it very western, but people don’t believe in them really. Most of the famous rappers who are respected in Iranian rap are talking about our society’s problems, or about our hip hop culture, not western hip hop culture.
Who are some of those artists?
Farhood: I can name a couple. One is Hichkas, he’s the godfather of Persian rap. Bahram is an artist who, because of his political rap, has been in prison in Iran. He’s living in Sweden; Hichkas lives in London. Shahin Najafi, I can’t call him just a rapper – he’s a very political artist and a very political person. Our government has said, ‘Whoever kills this guy is going to heaven.’ It’s such a big claim. He’s living in Germany, with a risk of dying in Germany, just because of what he’s talking about.
How did you meet Kepla and Ling?
Farhood: After a few years in Liverpool, I was at a club called MelloMello. I’d been with a couple of friends and saw Jon (Kepla) was DJing and really liked the music. Some of it was sad, but still a bit noisy. I started a conversation saying I was an Iranian rapper who wants to rap about political things, and I really like what you’re DJing. I met Jacob (Ling) through Jon; he was very interested as well. I was freestyling on beats at gigs at the beginning.
Can you tell us about the work you’ve been doing to help other migrants and asylum seekers?
Farhood: I’m working with Between the Borders magazine. It’s very important for me, because I experienced four or five years of being an asylum seeker. I still find many good reasons to talk about the migrant process or the asylum seeker process. I played a gig with them the first time and I really liked what they were doing. We started making exhibitions and releasing more magazines. It’s a very independent magazine. They’re asking migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers about their problems, but mostly they’re following the art that they’re doing. It’s something that means a lot to me.