Foad Manshady: Activism With A Beat
September 8, 2011
This interview is a little complex to introduce since the subject was originally picked up by Nick, a writer that left the site while in the middle of conducting this interview via email. As such, the questions that Nick did will be in bold while mine will be in the default blue font. Please allow me to introduce Foad Manshady, an Iranian Hip-Hop musician currently living in the US, who is using the freedom of expression that we offer here to his full advantage. While his music tends to focus on bringing awareness to several human rights issues plaguing his country of origin, stylistically, it’s rather unique. In addition to his Mideast Tunes profile, you can visit his official site for more information on his projects and other personal endeavors. I hope that you all find this interview to be as engaging as it for was me to conduct.
Nick: First off, I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule as a college student, musician and a human rights activist to sit down for this interview. With that said, here's the first question.... Growing up in a country like Iran, how did you overcome all the political powers and what were the experiences like for you and your family? Also, How did those experiences influence the music that you create?
To give you a short biography about myself, I was born in Iran, in a Baha'i family (a religious minority). Growing up in Iran meant that from an early age, I've been under discrimination and prejudice. Because the main religion in Iran is Islam, usually the government puts pressure on Non-Muslims. From the earliest I can remember, when I was two years old, the government of Iran closed down my father's photography studio, so we had to deal with a lot of economic hardships. Later in elementary school, some teachers would try to humiliate me in front of other students by calling me a taboo person. I had to deal with the same scenario and many other unfair situations through-out higher levels of schooling and Baha'is are banned from studying in Iranian universities. I always wanted to continue my education, so I decided to leave my family and my country when I was 17. I took refuge in Turkey in order to come to the United States, where I can go to college and take advantage of opportunities in life.
I started doing music when I was 11 by learning the Sitar and writing poetry. For me growing up in Iran, where you hear news about human rights abuse toward its people everyday, music was something that I could express my feelings and speak up, and most of my songs tell stories about social vices, discrimination, political problems, economic hardships, human rights abuse, education rights, women rights, execution, stoning, and etc.
Nick: Interesting, so with that being said do you feel any different in America? Do you still feel discriminated against and how has America influenced your music along with you growing as a person?
Well America is a diverse country, specially the state of California. The first differences I feel would be making music and having the freedom to speak my mind in my tracks, and being a minority is actually a privilege for universities. I have the freedom to talk about anything in my songs, for example I don't have to always use metaphors to say a lot of stuff. The main idea is to use the freedom that I have here to raise awareness and create freedom for others. I think the only way to solve the world's problems is true education. We need to be optimistic, use the resources that we have and go forward step by step.
Nick: Keep pushing, it seems like your starting to make some noise. Since you've been in California, have you been active in any programs to move your message forward to the people and how well has your message been accepted to the people of California or all over America?
Up until now all my songs were in Farsi and I cannot expect people who don't understand Farsi to follow my activities. However, some people ask for translations and they really liked the lyrics. Because of the Iranian government censorship regarding human rights, my main activity was to raise awareness about the issues for the Iranian people.In the near future, I have some great ideas to raise awareness internationally through music. During these years I learned a lot, and I will definitely take advantage of the resources. The one activity that really caught my attention here in America was the Peace Corps, hopefully after I finish college, I have plan to join the Peace Corps.
What about the Peace Corps attracted you so much? Also, why did you decide to have your lyrics originally in Farsi? Is there a particular significance to that and did anything else fuel the change to English aside from the need to connect to a wider audience?
You know I was born in a very small town, my family had economic hardships and many other problems, but I was fortunate to some really good people around me to help me get on track and make progress. Also I was a refugee and America welcomed me to live here in the US and go to school, make music and etc. I think it's time for me to give back some and do something positive.
About my lyrics, the main reason I wrote them in Farsi was because it was hard for me to rhyme in English, on the other hand I didn't have that much of an understanding of Western society and culture. This year I'm working on some new songs which will hopefully attract a wider audience by making mostly instrumental and simple yet meaningful videos.
You wrote about playing the Sitar earlier, so I am wondering about what influenced you musically and made you decide to adapt the music that you use to express yourself. Could you tell me about that?
I love listening to music, all kind of music. I really wanted to learn to play an instrument, so I bought a Sitar. Back then in Iran, it was illegal to walk with a musical instrument in the street, so it was hard to learn. All these restrictions made me want to write and rhyme. Hip-Hop was the best way to express my feelings and speak up about injustice. I mostly tried to use Middle Eastern instruments in my Hip-Hop beats.
Have you been met with any opposition from Hip-Hop fans due to your non-traditional methods musically?
I think true Hip-Hop fans are very open toward world music specially those who like DJing and Sampling which are the first elements of Hip-Hop. Some may have different tastes when it comes to instrumentals, and lyrics are a matter of perspective so, of course, some listeners might not like some of my tracks. It's totally normal and I always pay attention to feedback and comments.
That being said, since one of your goals is to create awareness with your music, whet do you see yourself accomplishing with your music in a more practical sense? Thinking of expanding into different styles? Looking to get signed to a label and make some physical releases? Or are you content with how it is now?
This is a tough question. I like to think big, promoting human rights in general. Through music I really like to work toward education rights and immigrant/refugee rights because I've personally been denied the right to education and I was a refugee for a year in Turkey. These are the issues that I can truly understand. Recently, I made lots of changes in my music, I'm more into minimalistic styles now. Other than that, I like to make videos, even short films for the music to give a stronger message to the audience. It's not really my goal to get signed with a big label. I like to be independent, so maybe an independent label or a manager would be better who can set up performances in non-profit educational events and organize things. I'm very optimistic about the future, things are going to change in a good way.
That's great! So you want to perform your music live? Have you ever done so before? What kind of experience is that for you?
I love to perform live and I like to perform my beats live too. Especially with the new style that I'm working on, probably just an MPC and a laptop could be enough for performance. Up until now, I have only performed at open mic events in LA and San Francisco. Open Mics are great experience, music lovers from different backgrounds, with different types of music gather and perform. Everyone is supportive and even if you make some mistakes, nobody's going to judge you. I'm also thinking of performing online soon, like internet concerts for those who follow my activities.
I think that online idea is pretty fascinating. Open mic events are something that I follow off and on as well. I must say that it has been great getting to know you more and learning about what drives your music. Thank you for doing this interview with us. In closing, could you describe a particular experience that may have inspired a good deal of your cause while in Turkey for our readers?
Being a refugee is a unique experience. I was still 16 when I moved out and left my family to go to Turkey. I still couldn't go to a high school in Turkey, so I missed one year of school. During the first weeks I thought I was the most unfortunate kid, but realized otherwise after seeing many families living in absolute poverty; especially the Kurdish minority have the worst situation. Many of them were waiting in Turkey for more than 5 years, it's tough to find a job and it has to be in the black market. On the other hand, their children can't go to school. Imagine a child missing school, all the fun, friends, the social experience, and learning - a once in a life-time experience. It effects a whole generation. After seeing all these things with my own eyes, it's really hard for me to be quiet. It was tough but I think I was fortunate to be accepted to come to America only after one year of staying in Turkey. I think It's time to give back and do something.
I wanted to thank you for your time and great questions. This interview helped me to get to know myself better and it really motivated me to work harder and harder. Thank You.