Afghanistan’s first female rapper, Soozan Firooz, spreads a message of hope and defiance to women across the country. Her song ‘Our Neighbours’ speaks in Dari of her troubled past as a refugee in both Iran and Pakistan, and yet the music, and its message of empowerment is totally absorbing – one woman’s effort to react to horrific events in a productive and peaceful way.

The music was composed by her teacher, and Afghan musician, Farid Rastagar, who commissioned a poet to set the words. The song speaks of everyday problems that Soozan faced as a refugee: ‘when we were there, my parents sent me to buy bread from the bakeries, and in both countries people pushed me to the back of the queue. They treated Afghans very badly. I also say in my song that I don’t want our neighbours to interfere in our country – be that Pakistan, Iran or any other country. Let us build our country ourselves’.

Soozan recognises the problems that arise from living as a refugee, describing how many people become either addicts or terrorists. She wants to show to these people that in music, there is an alternative way to express yourself and escape. Another of her desires is to prove to the outside world that not all Afghans are extremists – following in the footsteps of bands such as the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM.

For Soozan, however, being a female rapper in Afghanistan, where performances by women are frowned upon, is not easy. She often dresses in Western clothes, and appears in videos without a headscarf. All of this means her daily life involves receiving death threats that she must do her best to ignore: ‘there are some people who call me on the phone to threaten me, and tell me that if I continue, they’ll spray acid on my face. But I’m not afraid. I will keep singing’. Soozan does, however, have the support of her family, who are extremely proud of her achievements, and rely on her for financial support – her father now has to look after her safety full-time.

A softly-spoken, demure young woman may be an unlikely source for such a strong message of hope and empowerment for Afghan people, but her strength and bravery make her an excellent, and popular, role-model for women across the country, and her spirit of defiance shows the power of music to inspire people.