By Katherine Peach
Out of the 70 million people that populate Iran, 70 percent are under the age of 30. Despite facing economic difficulties, conflict with the U.S. and strict government rule, the youth have created a vast underground music scene.
Rap, or hip hop, is quickly becoming main stream within the conservative and traditional culture of Iran. One of the leaders of the underground scene, YAS, is the only rapper to obtain permission from the Iranian government to legally release his music.
“Music is something that could shift each other’s views,” YAS said. “Right now the hip hop style [in the U.S.] is losing a bit of its message. It’s important for people to get noticed who have a message and a story to tell.”
YAS’s message is clear in the documentary about the youth in Iran, “Nobody’s Enemy,” shown this Friday, Oct. 17 at Kalamazoo College’s Dalton Theater.
He performed live after a screening of the movie to a receptive audience that gave both the artist and film standing ovations. The crowd filled a majority of the seats in the theater to the admitted surprise of the Iranian-American filmmaker Neda Sarmast.
The three-hour event allowed for an open discussion with both the artist and filmmaker. Sarmast translated for YAS who is still learning to speak comfortably in English.
“Nobody’s Enemy” is a story that focused on young people in Iran concerned with peace and opening communication between the U.S. and Iran. Sarmast filmed the movie in her homeland to show what she called her view of Iran.
“I needed to get out of monologue and into dialogue,” Sarmast said of her decision to make the film. “I hope to shift some views, that’s my agenda. I’m hoping to dismantle some fears.”
Sarmast moved from Iran to the U.S. when she was nine. She returned for holiday visit when 13, only to be caught in the midst of war and forced to stay for two years when the Iran government shut-down the borders. She left Iran to live in the U.S. without her family, who were not given permission to leave the country.
Sarmast is seasoned in the entertainment field, doing marketing and PR for artists as big as Jon Bon Jovi for the past 15 years. She decided to make the documentary once Iran became subject in the media due to conflict with the U.S. government.
“I felt like I wanted to do something with a message,” Sarmast said. “If you are inspired by anything you’ll be surprised by what you can do.”
She traveled to Tehran, the capital of Iran, in 2006 to film during the elections. She spoke with different young people about their daily lives, their ideas of the Iranian government and their views of the U.S.
She met YAS, who like many others, was very hesitant to meet with the filmmaker for fear of retribution for participating in underground music. Sarmast was arrested multiple times just for filming, and even had footage destroyed and taken away.
YAS’s songs are gaining momentum to make him one of the top rap artists in the country. Proud of his heritage, his is adamant to bring a positive light to the Persian culture that he said receives mainly negative attention in the media, especially in the U.S. His music can be heard on his myspace page at www.myspace.com/yaspersian2.
“Anytime there is an extreme, that means balance is lost,” Sarmast said. “I assure you it’s not the majority. If you want to see extremists’ views, turn on the TV.”
Sarmast said she feels a connection to both countries and wants to separate views held by the government from that of its people. She wanted the film to show the everyday lives of the Iranian people, not the violence of a few.
She explained that the Iranian youth are “extending their hands to Americans” in an attempt to reach peace. Although the U.S. culture is more readily assessable in TV and online, she wants to address misconceptions about Americans to the Iranian people.
“It’s important to show that we care,” Sarmast said. “There is an image that [American] people don’t care about other cultures.”
Sarmast has been promoting both the film and YAS’s music across the Middle East and the U.S. YAS recently performed in Dubai to a crowd of 6,000.
Portions of the unreleased film can be viewed at www.myspace.com/nobodysenemy.