SILVANA IMAM, HIP-HOP, AND THE SWEDISH ELECTIONS

by Hannah Jerming-Havill

Sunday morning, 14.09.2014, there’s a slight overcast dulling Bristol’s sky, the tea is brewing and on the other side of the North Sea history might be written.

Recently however, the utopian illusion has been dissolving in accordance with the suffocating right-wing wave that’s been ablaze throughout Europe. In 2010 the far right, anti-immigration party Sverigedemokraterna (SD) gained seats in the Swedish government for the first time, which made the past elections dismally historical. Due to the coalition based structure of the Swedish government, SD gained quite a significant position of power, because neither the left-wing nor the right-wing coalition secured sole majority; SD had the power to swing the vote left or right with their 5.7% of government seats. As the left was outraged the coalitions broke down and Miljöpartiet (MP – Sweden’s equivalent of the Green Party) announced that they would rather shift their position and collaborate with the right-wing coalition than give SD such a power privilege.

‘Och ni kan trycka paus om ni inte kan hantera hybrisen’ [And you can press pause if you can’t handle the hubris]

And as the support for SD has undoubtedly been growing in Sweden, a fierce and fearless opposition has been taking the country in its pink storm: we have witnessed the rise of Feministiskt Initiativ (F!) – a ‘feminist initiative’ party, F! stands for reinforced human rights, equality and accessible opportunities for everyone. Not at all a one-policy-party, F! apply the feminist perspective of equality to all aspects of society and politics. Keys points (in my opinion) are: to strengthen individuals’ right to seek asylum, to stop privatisation of the welfare sector – such as healthcare and education – and maintain a welfare system that’s not driven by profit, to stop the human exploitation of our natural resources and also take animal rights into account when we discuss environmental sustainability, and of course to address and take serious political action against domestic and global violence, racism, fascism, sexism, homophobic abuse – forces of oppression, which can all be traced to share the structures of patriarchy.

Yesterday was election day in Sweden; a country often associated with Scandi-utopian politics – free healthcare, free education, historically liberal immigration policies and a place where hearing the gender-neutral pronoun ‘hen’ in daily conversation doesn’t turn heads anymore.

In the latest polls, F! had been hovering around their 4.0% target, which is the limit required to gain seats in government. If the limit were met, history would be written as Sweden would become the first country to elect a fundamentally feminist party into government. If F! were to reach 4.0% or more it could also mean that the left-coalition would reach single majority, hence robbing SD of their political influence. Just hours before voting closed, the caption on F!’s Facebook page read ‘Lets Dance Into Government’.

(© Jessica Arneback)

Last week I was in Uppsala and got to taste the feminist buzz that hums amongst the young Swedish population. Not only is the feminist opposition fierce and fearless, it is excited. And it is ready to celebrate. In the name of social change through cultural revolution, I was both surprised and completely blown away by the massive rise of female/queer/political/feminist hip-hop that has taken hold of the Swedish music scene.  As I was introduced to and swept away by one female rapper in particular, I would now in turn like to introduce you to Silvana Imam.

With roots from Syria and Lithuania, Silvana grew up in the suburbs of Stockholm. Straight to the point, her lyrics seize the patriarchy by its horns and she calls for her army of ‘Simone de Beauvoir soldiers’ to take the beast down. In a TV-interview with another Swedish rapper, Adam Tensta, they point out that the distance between politicians and people in the suburbs – areas of concentrated poverty, both financial and spiritual – is always most apparent when elections are approaching. Hip-hop plays a vital role in closing that gap.

Through hip-hop the new counter-cultural Swedish rappers aim to empower and engage minority groups – or those oppressed as though they were a minority: women – to make their voices heard and to participate and vote for change towards equality, rather than become lethargic and have their silence taken advantage of by the blaring far-right.

I went with a few friends to see Silvana Imam at a little venue in Uppsala. The room was packed and the crowd was exhilarated with a sense of liberation, singing loudly together as Imam held out her microphone. She has released one album, Rekviem, and an EP, När du ser mig Ÿ se dig, which can be bought online (a mere £2 for the EP). Although one of my English-speaking friends in Sweden enjoys singing along to Silvana with little clue what she is really saying, I have roughly translated some of the lyrics from Imam’s EP below.

From the track ‘I•M•A•M’:

‘I take my revolution from Stockholm to Saudi
From Jordan to Basquiat
I am a here to be reckoned with there’s only one I•M•A•M
Only one I•M•A•M and it’s not a man
We are POWER PUSSIES
Fuck a 5:2 diet
I am 176 centimetres pussy riot!

In sneakers and hoodies
In burqas of barbed wire and nails of steel chrome
We are fire
We are all
We are one
So let the sirens ring
Fuck a Putin state we are precious children
Fuck a jantelag I am wonderful
Clairvoyant
The new revolution the new beginning
I•M•A•M

We ride shotgun as if we were nobility but we’re not nobility
No blue blood
Nothing is artificial
We are Arabs!
Simone de Beauvoir soldiers’

And from the final track of När du ser mig Ÿ se dig, ‘I min zon’, here is what Silvana leaves us with:

(© Jonas Norén)

‘Oi, listen!
It’s time to decide now
Let’s show them who’s in charge
However we try to categorise, re-group
and organise, we still don’t fit into the boxes
Who made these boxes?
There are no boxes
Everything’s a construct
The patriarchy must be overthrown
The only reality we have is our dreams

Oi, listen!
15 million people in the world are called Muhammed
but who’s name do they want to see on the CV? I know!
They say go home to those who don’t have a home
To those who are wearing out their knees on our streets
Nobody goes on holiday to Sweden in December
Not for our dirty pennies
Judith Butler said ‘gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original
Gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original
Nobody grows up blue or pink
Nobody grows up superior or subordinate
2% of all children born this year will be
impossible to define as X or Y
and they’re still laughing at ‘hen’
There are no identities
Everything’s a construct
I stand above jantelagen
No! We stand above jantelagen
I am a statement
When you see me • see yourself’

It’s Monday afternoon, the sky is unknowingly blue over Bristol, my half-cup of tea is cold and the preliminary results of the Swedish election came in late last night. There has been a shift to a new left-wing coalition government, who got 43.7% of the votes. F! gained some tremendous ground from the 0.4% they got in the 2010 elections, but fall just short at 3.1%. SD take a giant smug step to 12.9%, and take the place as the third largest party in government. In a pinked-out living room in east Bristol our jaws drop and the immensity of the work still to be done slowly sinks in.

One of F!’s main aims has always been to challenge the idea that Swedish society is equal, to erase the illusion of the Scandi-utopia. Now, surely, the bubble has been punctured.

But rather than feeling deflated there is still a hum of determination and true will to create change around social medias today. F! has the third largest number of paying members in Sweden, over 20000 and growing. They have created a unique feminist grassroots movement, resolved to continue their campaigns for equality and tolerance. And today I try to remind myself that equal rights, political empathy and social compassion are goals that must be long-term in order to be sustainable.


Editor’s Note: Statistics may change slightly. Currently: S (Social Democrats) 31.2 | M (Moderate Party) 23.2 | Mp (Greens) 6.8 | Fp (Liberal People’s Party) 5.4 | C (Centre Party) 6.1 | Sd (Sweden Democrats) 12.9 | V (Left Party) | Kd (Christian Democrats) 4.6 | Fi (Feminist Initiative) 3.1 | Others 0.9 

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