A Manifesto in Music: Woman, Life, Freedom’s Song by Shervin Hajipour

Curator's Note

In less than twenty-four hours after its posting on his Instagram page, Baraye (literally translated for the sake of, or simply because), Shervin Hajipour’s doleful tune, went viral, reaching millions of viewers in a short span of time. Baraye’s minimalist verses and crowd-sourced lyrics express a call to stand up in opposition to the denial of seemingly “very normal” and “humanly” needs. Before the song ends with an elongated Azadi (freedom), for the sake of freedom, in a concluding refrain, Shervin lists several simple desires that the revolutionaries had jotted down in their Twitter posts, longings as innocent and harmless as “dancing on the streets”; “for a typical life”; “for kissing freely in public”; “for the feeling of calm”; or as natural as “for smiling faces.”

But some of the yearnings are considered as political opposition to the values of the regime in power, such as against the “ordered economy,” referring to the resistance economy and other anti-sanction economical measures that the state has imposed upon its subjects for decades.  “For the sake of the imprisoned elites” refers to the filmmakers, musicians, writers, photographers, journalists, lawyers, and many others who are incarcerated for their beliefs, while “for this forced paradise” points to the ideological system that is imposing its religious values on all without regard of their will.  And  “for all the empty slogans,” refers to the deception and empty promises the regime has given to people for forty-four years.  When he sings for the sake of the “Afghan children,” this line critiques the hypocrisy of the regime in Iran in dealing with the refugee crisis for years.

Shervin’s song conveys environmental concerns with its despair about “Vali Asr,” the longest street in Tehran, “and its worn-out trees,” which are subject to toxic pollution, or “Pirouz,” the Persian cheetah, “about to be extinct,” thanks to the regime’s mismanagement of wildlife.

Baraye is also a song that calls for gender justice: “for the girl who wished to be a boy”; “for women, for life, for freedom”; or  earlier “for men, for country, for construction”; and “for my sister, your sister, and our sisters.”

But there is also something proactive in Baraye, as the song calls “for change in the rusted minds” and sees this movement “for the students and their future.” This is a future that is different from the one the regime has ideologically envisioned and imposed upon its frustrated youth.

Many have now called Shervin’s Baraye more than a song but rather “a manifesto” for the Woman, Life, Freedom movement. In a symposium at the University of Toronto, Homa Hoodfar, a professor at Concordia University in Montreal, disagreed with those who claimed Iran’s Woman, Life, Freedom movement has no clear demands, and claimed that Baraye is in fact a written “manifesto,” in which the yearnings of a new generation of revolutionaries have been articulated. At the same panel, Mehrangiz Kar, the acclaimed lawyer who escaped Iran after the Berlin conference of 2000 controversy, concurred that not only Baraye is a “manifesto” of this movement, but it is a step further, and it can be seen rather as the “theory of the human rights order that has emerged in the form of a song.”[1] She sees the song as aligned with the human rights charter, and one that now clearly reflects the demands of the people of Iran.

In this song, Shervin’s creativity and voice also declare and demonstrate what Deepak Chopra has called “a cultural paradigm shift.” The spiritual guru defines paradigm as “a collective zeitgeist” or “a mindset.” He believes that this outlook is set to change as a result of the “powerful” uprisings in Iran, where the “fragile power of the Iranian women might be a tipping point for a new story for humanity.”  Chopra asserts that “the world is looking to women as an emerging power capable of changing the paradigm of war, violence, and nationalist hostility.”  The current paradigm, in his opinion, has resulted in “an unsustainable planet,” with “social, economic gender and racial injustice,” where “extreme loss of life through violence is leading to collective extinction.” However, Deepak Chopra perceives the Iranian uprising as one with universal characteristics, where “our Iranian women have been chosen to lead the way,” not only for Iran but for all of humanity- against the existing injustices and extreme violence of this world.[2] 

Like Chopra, the prolific philosopher Slavoj Zizek sees something more universal in the freedom fight emerging out of Iran and expresses his solidarity in a video clip addressed to the revolutionaries of Iran, and states that “we have to follow you,” meaning the people in the west who are also fed up with the injustices in this part of the world should consider this fight their own.  He comes  right out and says, “we are part of it [the revolution]- part of the same struggle.” [3]

Because the Woman, Life, Freedom is not an organized movement and one that has no fixed leader, the Baraye song stands as a solidifying and mobilizing voice, one that has succeeded in celebrating and calling for solidarity, with this no longer a local cause. People are struck by the music and the universality in this song, which today represents a struggle that many not only identify with but consider themselves to be its active participants.[4]

Today, Baraye Azadi is performed by international musicians and superstars, having been translated into a number of languages. Rana Mansour’s English rendition was performed throughout the United States and has gained fame of its own.

The clip attached here is Cold Play’s performance paying tribute to the revolutionary uprising out of Iran, with Golshifteh Farahani, the famous Iranian actress living in exile,  as a guest star on the group’s tour in Buenos Aires.  The clip shows how the Cold Play Band integrated Shervin’s singing with Golshifteh Farahani’s performance on a large international stage.

Shervin was arrested briefly after posting his song on Instagram.  He is currently free on bail as he witnesses the ascendance of his song’s popularity all over the world, in multiple languages. On February 5th, Baraye won the first Grammy Award for Best Song For Social Change, a new category in the Grammy Awards. This special merit award was surprisingly announced by the American First Lady, Jill Biden, who stated that "This song became the anthem of the Mahsa Amini protests, a powerful and poetic call for freedom and women's rights." She then concluded that "Shervin was arrested, but this song continues to resonate around the world with its powerful theme: Women, Life, Freedom."


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