Nadia Tehran is a politicised artist. Stylishly rebellious, she explores issues surrounding race and immigration over glitchy, punky synth beats.
Born in Jönköping, Sweden to muslim Iranian parents, her hodgepodge cultural upbringing is weaved into her music. Inspired by tales of her dad fighting frontline in the Iran-Iraq war and irked by the dehumanising gaze of the West, the 29-year-old sings of borderless skies, of a “refugee queen in a Gucci-Tee” and standing in unity with her suppressed sisters across the world. Tehran’s track Refugee is accompanied by visuals which were illegally filmed in Iran – an experience that caused her much aggro with the authorities due to the government’s accordance with Sharia law.
Currently notorious within Sweden’s underground scene, the rising singer is set to penetrate further afield. An eventuality only accelerated by her recently released debut album Dozakh: All Lovers Hell.
10%: Where were you born, where were you raised and where are you now based?
I was born and raised in Jönköping, southern Sweden, but I moved to Stockholm when I graduated.
20%: At what point did you realise you’d be able to do what you love for a living?
I’ve always known that I’m an artist and that that’s how I would live my life. I don’t remember thinking that I would be anything else. I’ve had my doubts about being able to support myself financially through art though, that’s still a fucking struggle.
30%: What’s a piece of advice that changed your life?
My grandmother taught me the most valuable lesson about how to avoid conflict with grown ups and figures of authority when they were telling me what I can and cannot do as a young girl. Her advice was basically: “Say ok and smile, and then do whatever you want anyway.” I was always going to do it my way, but this way people couldn’t argue with me – it saved me a lot of time.
40%: What kind of emotions and experiences are influencing your work?
I think the most pre-eminent feeling is restlessness. Growing up in a country like Sweden, it’s easy for a girl like me to feel under-stimulated and underwhelmed, but also left out or caged in. It’s such a stiff and square country, with a mentality that tells you that – whatever you do – don’t stand out. I think it’s rooted in the idea of equality, but somewhere along the line it’s become an aspiration for indifference. I think the resistance to this mentality is something that drives me – and my work. I’ve had to fight against society for my desire to be who I want to be, regardless of all the people that are telling me to shut up and sit down.
50%: What can you tell us about your new project?
It’s called Dozakh: All Lovers Hell and is a 15 track record that is my debut album and my life’s work. I spent a decade working on it. The word ‘dozakh’ means hell in Farsi. Metaphorically this is also a place of torment one believes they are in when separated from their lover. Dozakh is a place that I have experienced and that’s where this album takes place, a life in some kind of burning longing for something that’s missing. Like a void, a distance, a gap, a separation. This separation can be a distance to a lover, to society, to an identity, to a home or to a life that could’ve been but never will.
The first song written from the album is more than 15 years old. I was 13 when I wrote it on my guitar in my teenage room back in Jönköping. It’s called High and it’s about the first boy who ever broke my heart. I’ve carried it with me through all these years, and it’s grown with me, shaped by everything that’s happened, and crystalised into what it is today. The whole record is about that, when you spend a decade on a song it slowly becomes timeless.
60%: Break down your typical day at work…
I prefer working at night time, my days are honestly mostly kind of dull. I answer emails and take care of practical stuff. At night time I’m in the zone, feeling moody in the dark, writing my best songs when nobody is around, and the streets are quiet and I can feel completely alone in my own world.
70%: What can artists do to help save the world?
DON’T GO TO ISRAEL! Make conscious decisions about who we associate with, who endorse us, who we pay and who makes money off us, ask ourselves why Israel maintains a regime of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation of the Palestinian people. This is only possible because of international support. Artists don’t just get paid for the work that we do, we are paid to give credibility and cultural value to organisations, companies and governments. So we need to know who we are supporting and why. When we let an energy drink company endorse us we need to know that in exchange we are indirectly helping their leaders to build an alt-right movement. In that case we’re not only giving them credibility, we’re also selling out our democracy. There are many examples of this, and we can only do our best; sometimes you just need the money and I get that. But it needs to be a conscious choice. Even if you don’t want to be a political artist, your actions are still political.
80%: Who would you most like to see on the cover of The Face?
I mean… Obviously myself.
90%: You rule the world for a day. What went down?
Open borders, free movement across the world. Replace today’s world leaders with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Athena Farrokhzad, Robyn Fenty, Pussy Riot, Nadia Murad, Greta Thunberg, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Shirin Ebadi, Khadija Saddiqi and Angela Davis.