A poet sentenced to death – Interview with Shahin Najafi
Although throughout his career his music has encompassed different musical genres, from hip hop to rock, jazz and blues of the latest songs, his lyrics remain naked and provocative and he refuses to be silenced. Through his music Shahin Najafi delivers strong and controversial messages about Iranian society. He is a musician, a poet, a singer, and a social activist. In 2012, his song: Naghi, angered the Iranian government which found the song offensive towards the imams and called it a severely punishable crime so much that it used religious edicts to call for his death.
At 32 years old, Shahin Najafi had a $100,000 bounty on his head. This for having written poems and songs and for having told the truth of the facts. Since 2005 he has lived first in Germany, then in UK, in Canada and in USA. During this exile his artistic production has never stopped. In 2013 he published When God is Asleep (Wenn Gott Schläft), a book featuring original poems, lyrics and observations. From the book a documentary film directed by German-American director Till Schauder was born. The film received the Most Valuable Documentary of the Year award from the Cinema for Peace Foundation. On March 2nd, 2017 he was invited in Tel Aviv, Israel, as a special guest at Blackfield’s concert that was broadcast by local and international media such as the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Times, NBC, The Times Israel and Jerusalem Online. The purpose of this event was a message of peace and at the end of his performance, Shahin addressed politicians from all over the world and invited them to stop dividing people before it’s too late.Shahin fan base started in Iran and soon has spread all over the world. He has toured different places in Europe, in Canada and in United States of America. He was very kind to grant us an interview and we thank him very much for the time he dedicated to our publication.
The Iranian artist told us about him, recalling his childhood spent in Anzali, a tourist town in the Caspian Sea and Anzali Lagoon.
Shahin is the youngest of eight children and he has had a good time spending whole days of his childhood on the beach, at the fish market and surrounded by a wonderful natural environment.
During school hours, he couldn’t wait for the end of the lessons to go out and play football with his classmates. The inhabitants of Anzali, like the Neapolitan people, are great football fans. To give us an idea of Anzali, he paints it as a small village in Spain or Italy. Growing up quickly he began reading the world through the poetry he was passionate about.
And through poetry he denounces the hypocrisy of Iranian society. In his lyrics the strong and provocative words stick to you.
It seems like a story from other times and instead it’s happening now.
In Iran, 20-year-olds are found guilty of claiming human rights and are convicted and killed.
And so this world that calls itself civilized still condemns a man for his poetry, for a different point of view, for not being aligned with the system. Shahin Najafi is condemned for having drawn a definitive and real picture of the state of affairs in society but despite the conviction he continues to write and spread his message with great courage.
In “Götzen-Dämmerung” (The Twilight of the Idols) Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger“. Can we say that this is what happens to you?
S.N.: “I contend that occasionally, actual death precedes biological death. I describe each human being in terms of their function. If you have no function, you will perish. If you lack empathy for others, you are going to die, but you don’t know when. It is not a fulfilling life when you feel like you are living in a large prison even in society and you are forced to work like a slave with no prospects for the future. Despite breathing, eating, and drinking, you are not truly free. I believe that without freedom and a future, humans will die. We are really not real, so we can’t be as strong as slaves.”
You were 24 years old when you were forced to leave Iran. What were your feelings the days before you went to Germany?
S.N.: “At the age of 24, I had no idea of the future or of Europe. I had no idea what would occur, but I was confident that my choice was the right one. I was aware that I could not survive government pressure and censorship.”
How did you approach poetry?
S.N.: “Through words, I attempt to understand the world. The words themselves have no significance, but we use them to make the world understandable, making it seem like a game. For me, poetry works like magic to extract strange and beautiful ideas from words.”
According to you does poetry relieve wounds, intensify pain or is it a sacred testimony of facts and feelings?
S.N.: “Poetry combines both consolation and suffering. I find it difficult to distinguish between facts and feelings in art. We understand ourselves and our place in the world based on our experiences in our surroundings. Poetry can combine facts and feelings, but it is not always clear. Imagination is the magical quality of art.”
What brought you from Germany to the United States?
S.N.: “I’ve lived in countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany, but the United States was my final stop. a vast, libertarian nation with wonderful social conditions.”
To what extent does the condition of exile affect your way of making art?
S.N.: “I ought to divide my artistic life into various parts depending on where I am. I recognise that my inspiration came from the nation where I lived. Language, environment, culture, and political issues have always shaped my songs and how I see the world. In contrast to my age, I was more emotional when I was in Germany, but I learned how to control my emotions. In the UK, I gained more knowledge about human behaviour and relationship management. These all served me well in my artistic endeavours.”
Have you ever been afraid? If so, how do you manage fear so that it doesn’t affect your artistic evolution?
S.N.: “As animals, humans experience fear, which serves as a survival mechanism. We are a collection of diverse emotions, and I underwent training to comprehend both my inner self and the environment around me. What I learned, I used to my art, expressing all of my emotions through music. As long as you maintain control and can manage your actions and reactions, fear may serve as a key driver that propels you forward.”
If the Iranian government changed by eliminating psychological and physical violence and erasing all its absurdities in favor of open-mindedness and true democracy, would you return back to your hometown? Yes/No. If not, why?
S.N.: “The Iranian government was unable to change its ideological tenet. Being a teleological system and being free are mutually incompatible. Open markets and gateways to the outside world are necessary for an open society. The Islamic Republic is a corrupt regime that should not be dealt with. They do not believe in any religion other than Islam, nor do they support any human rights, LGBTQ, women’s, or other political opinions. The regime can be changed, but the cannot change its mind.”
Last December on your YouTube channel you released a new song entitled Sobhe Entegham شاهین نجفی – صبح انتقام. What’s next?
S.N.: “I will release a massive music video called “SHAH” regarding the current political situation in Iran in march as the next phase.”