Mozhdah (pronounced MUHJ-dah) Jamalzadah was in her early 20s when her father wrote the lyrics to what would become the song that launched her career. At that point, “Afghan Girl” wasn’t yet a song, but a poem he wrote about a group of young girls who had been attacked with acid by Taliban operatives as a warning about what happens to girls who go to school.
The family had left Afghanistan when Jamalzadah was just a child, escaping via Pakistan and ending up in Vancouver. But she remained connected to her home country, and read often about the effect of the oppressive Taliban regime, particularly on women and girls in the country.
She turned “Afghan Girl” into a song and it became a giant pop hit in Afghanistan, where many people were grateful to hear someone address the plight of women in an honest way.
And that was just the beginning of her story, which went on to include performing the song for Barack and Michelle Obama at the White House, hosting her own Afghan talk show and becoming the “Oprah of Afghanistan,” sleeping with a gun under her pillow, and eventually being forced off Afghan TV for her own safety.
Jamalzadah has had a ton of success, but knows that the career she chose is a risky one.
“I’d rather have a shorter, more meaningful life if I were to end up dead than to just live my life in fear,” Jamalzadah told HuffPost Canada.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.