Portrait: Berlin Hip Hop Singer Sahira

A Berlin Mouth with a Palestinian Heart

Sahira is Berlin's most successful Hip Hop singer. She has already sung for Bushido, established her own label "Imanimusic," and has now completed her second album. She sings about German youth, her faith, Palestine, and true love. Nimet Seker met the singer at her studio in Berlin

Sahira (photo: Sahira Management)
Sahira sings and raps in German, although her music has an Arab soul, influenced by her Palestinian roots

​​ Sahira has a music note painted in henna on the knuckle of her otherwise bare ring finger. "This means that I am married to music," she explains. She recently completed work on her second album "Mit reiner Absicht" (With Pure Intent).

She shows a photo of her mother in stage costume and with a microphone in her hand. She was once a singer of classical Arabic music – and for Sahira the most beautiful voice in the world.

Sahira is one of the most well-known Hip Hop musicians in Berlin. She gained her first stage experience as a young teenager and even wrote her own songs. It didn't take long until she sparked the interest of record companies, but Sahira decided to take her time and let her music mature. In 2005, she established her own label, "Imanimusic."

"When you have your own label, it gives you more freedom and the chance to show your real personality," she says. "I am a defiant and headstrong individual. Tell me to go left, and I will go right. It is an impulse that drives me."

German Hip Hop with an Arabic soul

Her music is song oriented Hip Hop with soul elements, the lyrics are sung in German, the soul, however, is Arabic. Her unmistakeable voice is influenced by Arabic music and it speaks the language of the street – directly and aggressively. "I am free, I got some mouth! There's no doubt, Berlin's my home! 'Filistin' is also my home! The wall hems in, stone for stone, know what I mean," raps Sahira on her first album.

"A free mouth": That's an apt description of the personality of this native Berliner of Palestinian decent. Sahira lives what she sings and sings what she lives. But there is also another side to her. The 11 September was a turning point in her life.

"As the media began to present a negative image of Islam, I decided to learn more about my own religion. When I say that I am a Muslim, what does that actually mean? Can this attack be justified by Islam? If that were so, then I couldn't be a Muslim. So I began to read the Koran. I wanted to be able to proudly say, 'I am a Muslim.'"

"Masha'allah" instead of "cool!"

Until then, Sahira was a believer, but because of personal prejudices against the religion she kept her distance from anything Islamic. Now she sings on her albums about "that scarf in your hair" and about the love of God.

Sahira (photo: Sahira Management)
She doesn't fit in any category: Some conservative Muslims are not pleased with Sahira's own conception of Islamic dress and her lifestyle

​​ "There has always been spirituality in Hip Hop as well as Muslim Rap, like Brand Nubian in the USA," she says. It is only now getting attention in Germany. "The young generation in Germany asks itself, 'What is Islam?' And because of the debate about Islam, people are forced to show their colours, even in music."

Among young people, in particular, she has observed a greater degree of self-confidence in their adherence to Islam, which is not the same as that of their parents. She behaved quite differently as a teenager. "Now you can often hear 'salamu alaykum' instead of 'merhaba,' and more 'masha'allah' instead of 'cool!' Of course they also listen to Gangsta Rap and are caught up in all the nonsense typical for teenagers, but they are nonetheless different. They are more self-aware and are moving forwards."

"Ihtisham" – the female power

This is the young public that comes to see Sahira at her performances. Sahira says she would like to be a role model for the many girls in attendance. "After a performance, when I hear young women say, 'Man, you can be cool and rap even with an ihtisham,' then I see that they have hope, they have a role model. That makes me proud."

'Ihtisham' doesn't mean headscarf – and Sahira can't stand that word. 'Ihtisham' refers more to "being presentable" – knowing that one possesses female power, says the Hip Hopper. "I don't wear it in the typical way. You can see my hair in the back, the earring, and everything else. And my neck is free." It doesn't make a difference in Hip Hop how you are dressed, and she has even appeared as a moralizer in a mini-dress.

Sahira was raised in the middle-class district of Wilmersdorf in Berlin – a very sheltered upbringing among Germans. Today she lives in the culturally diverse district of Wedding, where many Turkish and Arab Muslims live side-by-side.

There, she often experiences situations with Muslims that she finds aggravating. "A number of Muslims say that a woman's voice is 'awra (naked). They interpret this as meaning a woman is not allowed to sing. And with respect to my wardrobe, they don't know how to categorize me."

"Misogyny is everywhere in the system"

Apparently, the image she represents is already a misunderstanding. Muslims, in particular, see many contradictions in her image. Young women, however, have understood her message and it is this: "Islam begins with the word 'iqra,' to read, and that is the duty of all believers, especially women. Otherwise, we just accept everything, sit at home, have 50 headscarves in our hair, and are deeply unhappy. Education is principally a women's right."

And what about the men? On her second album, "Mit reiner Absicht," Sahira sings with her warm voice an homage to love and to serious-minded men. "You are so proud, so pure, so strong, so soft, so true, masha'allah'. It is so perfect to be with you, so warm, so clear, subhanallah."

Ibn Halal is the name of the song. Ibn Halal is the good man, the one you can marry, she explains. The man with who you can live your whole life. "We have an expression. Ibn Halal is not the one who comes through the window, but rather the one who comes in through the door."

And what of all the guys in the Gangsta Rap scene? How does she react to the lyrics rife with sexism and glorifying violence? "These guys aren't gangsters, they are just small-time crooks. Eminem, for instance, can be quite gross with his lyrics, although they can sometimes be quite powerful. I just don't take them seriously. And misogyny can be found everywhere in the system."

Nimet Seker

© Qantara.de 2008

Translated from the German by John Bergeron


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