Silvana Imam is changing Sweden’s contemporary hip hop landscape. In this jj remix of her song «I.M.A.M.», classical hip hop video references – hoodies, bling, car riding and graffiti – are characteristically interchanged with images of political protests, LGBT Pride marches and Pussy Riot members. Crowded scenes pass by in between desolate urban landscapes, while the lyrics contain feminist messages as well as Arabic expressions. Silvana Imam is in many ways a unique artist, but also part of a larger history of hip hop feminism. From the Norient book Seismographic Sounds (see and order here).
Hip hop in Sweden, as in many other places, has been a heavily male-dominated genre since its public breakthrough in the 1990s. Yet, female artists have always been important. Neneh Cherry and Leila K were pioneers and internationally successful. In the 2000s, artists like Ayesha, Feven, Heli, and Melinda Wrede appeared. But in recent years things have changed dramatically: the Femtastic collective has brought together female actors in the urban music scenes, Linda Pira had a huge hit featuring several up-and-coming female rappers, and artists like Cleo and Lilla Namo are frequently played on the radio.
Breaking New Ground in Swedish Hip Hop
One of the most interesting voices of this new generation is no doubt Silvana Imam. While sexism and gender inequality within and beyond the hip hop scene have long been important themes in lyrics by female rappers – including topics such as men’s violence against women, unequal pay, sexist attitudes and so forth – Silvana Imam’s lyrics celebrate feminist icons ranging from Simone de Beauvoir and Valerie Solanas to Pussy Riot and Gudrun Schyman of Feminist Initiative, Sweden’s feminist political party. There is thus a characteristic emphasis on sisterhood, on «my girls», in Imam’s lyrics. But gender is not the only issue at stake in her music. She is also the first prominent queer rap artist in Sweden, which certainly breaks new ground in the largely heteronormative hip hop genre. And while she fills her lyrics with clever references – which in this song includes Narcissus, Cain and Abel – she also has a transnational perspective, herself having roots in Syria and Lithuania. In «I.M.A.M.» she is thus «writing the New Iliad, the New Bible and the New Qur’an» (Quote from the lyrics).
It has now been twenty-five years since Public Enemy’s call to «Fight the power». One of the most exciting things about Silvana Imam is how she brings this spirit into dialogue with a political analysis of the interconnectedness of transnational, queer and feminist issues—taking the «revolution from Stockholm to Saudi Arabia», as she calls it.
This text was published first in the second Norient book Seismographic Sounds.