INTERVIEW: Silvana Imam, The Swedish Rapper Fighting Neo-Nazis
Silvana Imam is a feminist, lesbian Swedish rapper starting to make inroads in the United States, despite rapping in Swedish and Arabic. With lyrics like “You say my love is breaking the law/I say you have super thin dick/Go kiss your fucking swastika,” it’s clear she says exactly what she means. We were able to interview her after her South By Southwest appearance, and talked about justice, politics and why a leftist is reading Ayn Rand.
Unicorn Booty: Your work is very political and outspoken about injustice — do you feel that’s an artist’s responsibility, to speak out about important issues like patriarchy and white supremacy? Are there any other artists who are speaking out through their work that particularly inspire or interest you?
Silvana Imam: I think it’s important to speak out whether you’re an artist or a teacher or a hairstylist. It doesn’t matter what kind of work you do, speaking out is not about that, it’s about human values. Especially if you’re in some kind of power position it’s even more important.
In an interview with RADAR, you mention that Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is one of your most-read books; what about Ayn Rand appeals to you, and how do you reconcile Rand’s writings with your leftist background?
I don’t know about the person Ayn Rand but her book inspired me to do what I’m good at and saying I’m good at it. We are taught to not believe in ourselves and our inner power. I’m a complex human being and anything can inspire me, whether it’s a quote or some line I hear in a song. I don’t like to be boxed in.
As someone who has received threats for speaking out against Neo-Nazis and other bigots, what techniques do you have when you feel unsafe? Do you currently feel unsafe?
As a woman I’m unsafe from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. Men’s violence against women is the worst terror we’ll ever hear of and still it is so stigmatized that it’s not a big enough problem for the leaders of the world to recognize it. How about starting a “war on domestic violence” or a “war on men’s terror against women?”
Your song “I Min Zon” references Judith Butler. The fellow Swedish electro-group The Knife have also referenced gender theory in their work, most notably the last LP, Shaking The Habitual — is there a larger scene in Sweden of academic pop music, or are you an outlier? What philosophers and thinkers would you recommend people familiarize themselves with to get a better handle on the world?
I’d say I’m an outlier who wants to create space for everyone. I want to be the last artist who answers questions like these that are more focused on politics than my music, so the artists that come after me don’t have to answer them.
What role does your lesbian identity play in your work? Do you face any discrimination as an openly lesbian person in Sweden and abroad? If so, what? If not, how would you like your work to positively change social perceptions of lesbians?
I don’t think about my sexual orientation when I create. I want to be respected for my music and art. I am not a politician. Do heterosexual men get these questions about what they do to make the world a safer place for homosexuals? If not, you really should ask them since they are the reason for this patriarchal system.
(featured image via Frankie Fouganthin/Wikimedia Commons)