She didn’t see it happen but Paradise Sorouri cannot remove the image from her mind of her young female cousins on fire, burning alive, aged just 9 and 12. Rather than be married off to older men, the pair decided to take their own lives. Devastated by the news, Paradise channeled all her energy into her rap lyrics and recording her music in Afghanistan. “I was sold as if I was dead out of soul… I wanted to talk but I was stopped for being a woman”, she spits on “Nalestan”. These words, from Afghanistan’s first female rapper, reverberated throughout the country. “But”, adds Diverse, Paradise’s fiancée and the other half of 143BandMusic, “the success of this song was good and bad. We couldn’t imagine it’d be the trigger to force us to leave and end up in Berlin”.
The conversation around creatives moving to Berlin borders on cliché, but it’s easy to see why Londoners do it – Brexit, the bulldozing of London’s nightlife and sky-high rents. It’s an understandably appealing alternative. But in the case of Paradise and Diverse it was the difference between life and death. Even prior to her cousins’ tragic death, Paradise was using her voice to stand up for women’s rights in Afghanistan.
The pair have been making music together for nine years. “In general, singing is a taboo in Afghanistan, let alone being a female hip hop and rap artist,” she says. “Nevertheless, I was sure that I could use rap for change because it allows me to speak about my internal feelings. Rap is like a weapon but loaded with words”. Yet the reaction to their music provoked more than a verbal response. Looking at the ease and poise of the pair now, it is hard to imagine that Paradise Sorouri was attacked in 2009 by a gang of men – in 2015, fearing for her life, she fled Afghanistan. All because of their music. Even at this point, they didn’t think about leaving for Europe.
But after receiving recognition from the United Nations and performing at bigger events in 2014, things took a turn for the worse. “Some strong religious sources started calling us prostitution promoters, Satanists and that we were running from the purpose of Islam,” says Paradise. “We received some physical attacks and knew that our lives were in danger every minute”. In 2015 they became two of 1 million refugees to head for Germany.