Thanks for taking the time to sit-down and talk; I am very excited to do this interview!
No problem at all.
I would first like to start our interview by allowing you to introduce yourself and offer any background information. For a lot of Punknews.org readers, hip-hop is probably not the first genre that comes to mind for the site, but I definitely think there is a lot of cross-pollination if you will and overlap when it comes to protest music.
Yeah, definitely. Well, my name is Mana and Iíve been writing lyrics for about ten years; performing for about three to four. My music is hip-hop, but I love to do stuff with other types of music like rap over beats that people wouldnít expect to be hip-hop and I rap both in English and Farsi. So I try to do different stuff and take music to another level, if you will.
Excellent and thatís awesome. If I remember correctly, you are based in Washington, DC?
Ok; I am as well. Iím living in Columbia Heights [a DC neighborhood].
So you know DC is all about politics then haha.
Yes, absolutely. How did you first get involved with writing music?
UmmÖit just really came out of me being an angry teenager and you know started by writing poetry and then it grew from there into doing something more than that. Then I got encouraged enough to actually perform and once I did that it just took on a new life. I kind of found myself and my purpose more. I met such incredible people along the way that it really helped me decide what I wanted to do.
Great; is there anything in particular about DC that you feel has influenced you performing or writing?
I mean, DC is a very political city so weíre definitely more involved in whatís going on than some other cities around the country. So being from Iran, everyone talks about politics all the time and here [in DC] politics is right there. You can go to the White House anytime you want so it definitely influences me a lot.
Cool and yeah, in school my focus was Middle Eastern politics. Itís something that Iím very passionate and interested in. Actually Iran is a country I want to visit but I feel like thatíd require some tactful traveling.
Youíd love it! See itís really interesting because I went there over the summer. I hadnít been there in nine years but itís a beautiful country with a lot of culture and so different from what the media shows that itís shocking. Youíd be surprised by the beautiful restaurants, the beautiful landscapes Ė itís incredible.
Yeah, itís on the top of my list to visit. I studied abroad in Cairo and have been elsewhere in the region, but to get back to you. From the music Iíve heard youíve mentioned rapping both in English and Farsi. Have you found people receptive to that or do they give you a look of, ďWhat the heck is going on?Ē
People like it; they do like it, but they just donít know what Iím saying. Thatís usually the response I get and people saying, ďI really like your style but I have no idea what youíre talking about.Ē So thatís why Iím trying to make more music thatís in English and Farsi so you know, if people donít understand the first verse they can understand the second so theyíre not completely lost. But I think my major in school was political science so in the United States you see so many people who are second generation and a lot of times thatís not really shown in the mass media culture. But thatís what is prevalent, especially in the DC area, so I think when people hear another culture mixed with American culture itís refreshing and theyíre very receptive and want to hear more.
I agree and have some first-hand experiences with that being a Muslim convert myself or hanging out with friends who are second generation - often times from South Asia, from the Levant, I mean North Africa, you name it. And theyíre trying to figure out whatís their place in American culture, like what do I keep with me and what do I leave by the wayside. But it seems like your music is an outlet for some of that and helping you find, in my opinion, your identity in a way.
I think itís really beautiful to do it through hip-hop. I mean, just knowing thereís a long tradition of Persian poetry and Farsi itself is a language that lends itself, from what I understand, to lyrical composition. Itís really cool that youíre doing that currently.
Hip-hop is a lot more international than people think, you know? I know thereís German, Italian, Chinese hip-hop Ė there are so many cultures that appreciate hip-hop. We donít hear or see them as much as we should.
I can say the same thing about my experiences with punk music. There are scenes all over the world. I think being here, especially in a city like DC, with its long history of punk just as much as hip-hop, funk, and go-go people get tunnel-vision about it. They think of punk as exclusively American thing Ė no, itís not!
Yeah, with punk especially there are a lot of Middle Eastern punks that people donít hear about, which is incredible. Thereís definitely a lot of punk around the world.
Looking at individual songs Iíve heard, they tend to have a very political bent to them, discussing things such as the Green Revolution and the current regime there. Could you share a little bit more about where youíre coming from when writing lyrics? You mentioned visiting Iran for the first time in nine years; so is it coming from first-hand experiences? Friends and family?
You know, my music comes from a lot of what Iíve seen myself, what a lot of things people have gone through. When I went there hearing people, heard people who are suffering Ė thereís more than 70% unemployment. There are issues that if you logically look at the situation youíre like, ďHow could it be this way?Ē So thatís where the politics come in. There are so many other things going on behind the scenes that people donít know about or even if they do know about it, it just keeps happening and doesnít change. And people are suffering and a culture is dying. A lot of times people will say, ďOh, youíre Arabic,Ē which Iím fine with but Iím not Arab and so I think a lot of times the Iranian culture of poetry and different aspects of it get lost. I think itís important to show that through my music and talk about it because there is no other way that I can run through the streets to talk about it. Music is a way of showing the history of a people. Iím not saying I represent the whole of my people but I know I represent myself and having lived there and here there are so many different things I want to share about the culture we have with the world.
Many props for doing that; I think itís much needed, especially from a female perspective. Thereís already a plethora of guys doing hip-hop and punk and whatever. Turning to performing, have you done much in the way of live performances outside of DC?
That is the goal. Right now Iím planning a tour and going to be starting a fundraiser pretty soon for it. I once got sent to St. Louis last year for the Euphrates Institute, which is really cool, and had a really good time. It was a Middle Eastern peace building conference that was going on and I loved the whole thing. So yeah, Iíve been there and New York but not really elsewhere Ė Iíd really like to go to LA because thatís where all the Iranians are. But Iíll definitely be doing more traveling this year.
Anything in the works in terms of an album?
Yes, Iím working on my debut album called The Secret of Mana and thatís coming out in August. Itís going to have 13 tracks and a single is going to come out soon. And when you were talking about the women in hip-hop or music generally, I started an organization called Lipstick Revolt. Basically it is a womenís empowerment organization and we did an album together with 13 different females Ė some were singers, musicians, bands. Itís definitely good to see and I try to encourage other females to get their voices heard because they are part of a culture as well.
Lastly, is there anything else youíd like to share with readers?
Yeah, when I started performing I had the opportunity to work with Wu-Tang and open up for Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, CappaDonna. I also got to work with Biz Markie. The Abjeez are an amazing Iranian rock band and you can check out their videos on YouTube. Iíve met a lot of different people and thatís kept me going. If youíre out there making music, keep doing your thing. Always be involved with that passion that you do.
Thank you for your time!