The sounds of rebellion: St. John's listening party celebrates the soundtrack of Iranian protests

Iranian dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi's song Normal is sarcastic, with lyrics that criticize state repression, income inequality and the unjust treatment of women in Iran. (Nahayat Tizhoosh/CBC - image credit)
Iranian dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi's song Normal is sarcastic, with lyrics that criticize state repression, income inequality and the unjust treatment of women in Iran. (Nahayat Tizhoosh/CBC - image credit)

It's been four months since Mahsa Amini died in Iranian police custody, sparking an ongoing protest movement and civil unrest. Since September, more than 500 protesters have died, 15,000 people have been arrested, and a number of famous artists, athletes, and musicians who have spoken out against the regime are facing public execution.

On Wednesday at the LSPU hall in St. John's, community leader Behak Rueentan organized a listening party centred on the chants, songs and visual arts coming out of the ongoing protests.

"We're here to celebrate the 'life' in the rallying cry, 'Women, Life, Freedom,'" said Reueetan. "We're here to celebrate the music and videos of people dancing around fires in the street. For those not in Iran, it's how we connect to the protests."

Baraye by Shervin Hajipour

While many protests song (new and old) are being sung in Iran, Baraye, by Shervin Hajipour, became a viral sensation in September. The song was viewed millions of times, played at major protests around the globe, and led to the arrest (and eventual release) of Hajipour. The lyrics are taken from messages that Iranians have posted on Twitter under the hashtag "for" or "because of" in Farsi.

"It's a powerful song," said Rueentan. "People posted things like, 'For all the times I've been scared of kissing my girlfriend,' 'For my dad, who died of COVID because the American vaccine isn't allowed,' 'For the lakes that have dried up because of corrupt environmental policies.' I've played this song over and over."

Normal by Toomaj Salehi

Rap music has played a major part in the Iranian protests, with rappers like Toomaj Salehi using their voices and platforms to speak out against the Iranian regime.

Salehi, who spoke to CBC News in October, has been arrested and charged with spreading "corruption on Earth," a severe offence under the Iranian regime that could lead to public execution. His song Normal is heavily sarcastic, with lyrics criticizing state repression, income inequality and the unjust treatment of women in Iran.

Rueentan said songs like Normal differ from past protest songs.

"There are so many older protest songs, and they are wonderful, but often they speak of ideological goals, but these newer songs feel different. You see things in Kurdish, women are being centred, and new chants are written in minority languages. The songs now are just saying, 'Let us live. Let us have basic human rights and everyday freedoms.'"

Anthem of Equality, or Song of Equality, by Iranian female singers

This song was written in 2007 by a group of female activists who actively campaigned against the gender-discriminating laws in Iran; the song calls on women to fight injustice and create another world. The 2021 video features modern Iranian female singers and showed images of women at protests.

"These images of people protesting, there's fires and gunshots, anger and fear, but they are still dancing and living it. There's joy here too, and I think it's important for that part to be celebrated," said Rueentan.

The Iranian community in St. John's has several upcoming events, including an art exhibit and performance at The Rooms in either late March or early April, an upcoming show at Eastern Edge that will be centred on a performance of the original song Women's Song by Cristina Hernandez with pianist Marianna Castro.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador