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'Rootless And Ruthless': Nadia Tehran Invokes Life In The Diaspora

Nadia Tehran's debut album, <em>Dozakh: All Lovers Hell</em>, is out now.
Joakim Eklöf
Courtesy of the artist
Nadia Tehran's debut album, Dozakh: All Lovers Hell, is out now.

Nadia Tehran's debut album, Dozakh: All Lovers Hell, opens with a haunting excerpt from an interview with her father. Tehran's father recounts his last day fighting in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, when he drove an ammunition-filled car that exploded after it was attacked. "Death comes when it comes," Tehran's father recalls saying to rally his troops for that ill-fated expedition. "One should not be afraid of death."

With her family in mind, Tehran named her album Dozakh after a Persian word for a kind of emotional hell a person finds themselves in when separated from a loved one. That sentiment of separation pervades Tehran's experimental music.

Tehran's parents immigrated from Iran to Sweden after the war. She says that her life in the Iranian diaspora is one of the influences behind her album. "It plays into a separation between, you know, life and death, and who am I and why am I here," Tehran explains. "But also, it kind of translates into my separation of growing up in Sweden and feeling rootless."

Nadia Tehran's<em> </em><em>Dozakh: All Lovers Hell</em>
/ Courtesy of YEAR0001
Courtesy of YEAR0001
Nadia Tehran's Dozakh: All Lovers Hell

Tehran's verses underscore this sense of rootlessness. On the song "Jet," she rhymes, "Luxury refugee / Apology? Not from me / Dior head to toe / Yeah, I came in on a boat / Rootless and ruthless / Smiling, I'm toothless / Catch me at the airport / Fly like a jet."

"That's my dad. That's my sister. That's my friend. This is the diaspora life," she says of "Jet."

It took years, Tehran says, for her to start openly embracing her Persian heritage. As a child, she would speak Persian, eat Persian food, watch Persian movies and listen to Persian music at home. "But then in school, that would be something that I would try and strip away," Tehran says. "So it was way later in my life when I started to embrace my Persian-ness, I guess."

Tehran attributes much of that personal trajectory to her parents, who insisted that she and her sister speak Farsi in the house and attend after-school Persian classes when they were young. Years later, Tehran's father even assisted with the making of Dozakh by accompanying his daughter to help shoot the music video for "Refugee" in Tehran, Iran's capital city. They undertook the risky project in the heavily policed streets of Tehran together.

"Me and my dad were being really punk and just going for it," Tehran describes the process. "I was wearing my headphones underneath my burqa, just rapping to the camera and then, like, pretending like nothing happened."

While some songs on the album are love letters to her family and heritage, others are about love lost. The song "Dreamers" was inspired by Tehran losing her grandmother. Tehran says it invokes "the feeling of 'I want to call you. I want to be with you but I can't be with you so I'm going to be with you in my fantasy.' "

Listen to the full aired interview at the audio link.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Phil Harrell is a producer with Morning Edition, NPR's award-winning newsmagazine. He has been at NPR since 1999.
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