“Rebel Beats,” a short documentary film from Afghan Service correspondent Omid Marzban, follows two young Afghan recording artists determined to be heard above the din of voices opposing them.
Paradise Sorouri and her fiancé Diverse were raised in Iran but met in Herat in western Afghanistan and later moved to Kabul. Together, they are the two-member group called 143 Band. The numeronym represents the letters in the words “I love you,” fitting, since their non-traditional relationship (they live together in a long-term engagement) has caused tumult within their families and earned them social scorn.
Their songs take on controversial issues like education for girls, child marriage, and violence against women and girls. Their choice of topics is bold, as is Paradise’s determination to dress as she likes, making it nearly impossible for them to perform publicly inside Afghanistan.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a singer, artist, teacher, or anyone else,” Paradise says in one of the opening scenes. “If you’re a woman, you’re a problem in Afghanistan.”
As a female rapper, Paradise says she receives heartening messages from her fans, who are inspired by her bravery and her songs, but her Facebook message box is also flooded with threats and vile comments. The pair are wary about drawing attention to themselves in public, as they have been attacked repeatedly.
“This is an extremely brave lady,” said filmmaker Omid Marzban. “The two of them may only represent a small portion of Afghan society that lives as they do, but they represent the aspiration of all Afghans for progress and a desire to move forward.”
In order to provide a full picture of the society reflected and challenged in 143 Band’s songs, Marzban interviewed moderate religious leaders about their attitudes toward women performing in public, and provides historical context with archive footage of popular Afghan women singers from the 1960s and 1970s when female performers were not uncommon.
“This is a story with two sides,” said Marzban. “On the one hand, we see how male-dominated Afghan society is today, but on the other hand we see this young man who supports his partner 100 percent. I hope the message people will take away from the film is that though the repression of women is a huge story in Afghanistan,there is also a new generation of people who want to move forward, even if it means risking their own comfort and safety.”
Filming took place in Kabul in the summer of 2015, and interviews are periodically interrupted by the whir of military helicopters overhead, a reminder of the insecurity that is the backdrop of the film. Marzban said they had to film inside whenever possible and keep the Interior Ministry informed of their movements for their safety.
Though the couple were determined to stay in Afghanistan where their music can have the most impact despite the risks they faced, they recently applied for asylum in Germany following a concert in France. Their new life comes with its own uncertainties and challenges, but they hope to continue making music for Afghan fans for distribution online.
The film is a co-production between RFE/RL and Media Nest, and following a private screening in Prague at the end of June it will be submitted to film festivals around the world.
Omid Marzban joined RFE/RL’s Kabul bureau in 2005 and moved to Prague in 2007, where he studied at the Prague Film School. Before coming to RFE/RL he worked as a radio sports reporter for a show called Good Morning Afghanistan.
“My hope for this film is that it presents a different side of Afghanistan,” said Marzban. “I hope that people leave the theater with the feeling that there is still hope for a bright future in Afghanistan.”