Member of the Month: Silvana Imam
The Wimpact’s powerfully tenacious member of the month uses fear as motivation to fight the consequences of the patriarchy and needs no validation to continue doing so. Stockholm, Sweden-based feminist rapper, Silvana Imam, utilizes her platform to be the voice for many. In all her musical accomplishments and societal trailblazing, she remains humble, grounded and authentic. At a time where some political leaders try to divide us through jargon, Silvana keeps it real. We commend and appreciate her fearless, unapologetic stance on social justice issues.
She captures everything the music industry needs more of: An immigrant fighting for immigrants, a queer fighting for queers, a woman fighting for women, a freedom fighter, who is fighting for everyone’s equal rights. She is humble, outspoken and raw. Her music is nothing different than the Silvana Imam you meet in person, none of it is for the fame and glory, her purpose is to serve the people. Silvana unquestionably and instinctively turned fear from violent threats as a constant source of motivation.
“That is my inspiration,” Silvana further emphasizes how she utilizes her own privilege. “If I have to go hiding, and I have a house, I have food on the table, I have money in the bank, then I’m good. But imagine all these people who don’t have a voice, imagine all these people that don’t have a home, those who have to flee their country because of war, that’s what I do it for, it’s about life. It’s not a gimmick.”
The recent headlines on immigration hit home for the “Imam Cobain” rapper. Her relatives in Syria are affected by border regulations. Her cousin traveled from Syria to Denmark on a boat with her two children, five days without food or water. “There are really no words to describe how I feel about it,” Silvana says with heart aching sadness in her voice. “It’s just the right wing parties are really feeding off of the clickbait news, September 11 terrorists… That’s how it started, especially since we have a right wing racist apartheid in our government called the Swedish Democrats, they are definitely doing that.”
Silvana’s fierce drive to be a voice for the voiceless has stem from a place of empathy. Her childhood and upbringing shaped her in every way when she admitted to always feeling like an outsider. After being born in Lithuania to a Lithuanian mother and Syrian father, her family soon moved to Prague and eventually immigrated to Sweden when Silvana was four-years-old.
As a child, Silvana recalls both her parents speaking about politics and the importance of standing in solidarity. Both her parents were keen on making sure Silvana and her sister knew their Syrian and Lithuanian culture. Being multicultural worked for and against her as she was growing up traveling to her family’s homeland during the summer and holidays. “Now I feel like the whole world is my platform, so before when I was younger in Syria, I felt like an immigrant, when I was in Sweden, I felt like an immigrant, when I was in Lithuania I felt like an immigrant,” She says. “I felt like there was something wrong not being from that country because I just didn’t fit in, but then that’s how the world is; they make you believe that there’s something wrong with being different.”
Over the years she eventually met people who were able to connect with her struggles, and together they built a movement. The beauty of this artist, she does not care about norms. “I don’t care about fitting in or not fitting in,” Silvana highlights. “That’s not what matters, what matters is who you are as a person and your values and stuff like that… I’m more open to other people than a lot of Swedes are because I am a lot of things, because of the way I am.”
Her personal feminist journey has developed through core values instilled at a young age. She says, “I’ve had the same values since I was like five-years-old… When I first heard the word ‘feminist,’ ok, so, ‘What is this?’ I think I’ve been identifying with it, I was a feminist before I knew the word.”
Silvana does not believe the divide of borders or nationalities, but because of her basic beliefs she feels it is important to identify with labels to speak on issues and to stand up for oppressed groups.
“I don’t care that I’m Syrian, I don’t care that I’m a lesbian, it’s just who you are it doesn’t define who you are. But just because it’s important, and gay people are discriminated, it’s important to me to really make myself, make my voice heard because you know we’re getting killed out there, so I need to be heard. People come up to me and say ‘you saved my life, you made me believe in myself, you made me want to come out. It’s important now that I have that platform to do that.”
When it comes to music, rap was the genre she identified with the most, but because there was no particular rapper she could identify with, she turned to poetry and creating music on her own, which perfectly exemplifies the quote, “She need a hero, so she became one.”
She connected with the political messages and influences she would hear from artists such as The Fugees. “My parents always talked about this stuff, as a kid you’re seven-years-old you don’t listen to your parents, but when I heard my parents messages through rap and through Fugees it made me realize, ‘whoa that was more interesting for me.’” Silvana explains. “I could actually relate when it comes from cool rap stars, of course as a kid you, it’s cool when you can identify with rap stars more than your parents.
She was inspired by The Fugess, and it was the first CD she purchased at seven-years-old. With her love for classical music and a mixture of beats, Silvana began to create “her own space and her own world.”
Her relentless spirit eventually led her to her dream team consisting of genuine people that not only align with Silvana’s vision, but also her values. She got in contact with her manager Babak Azarmi of Respect My Hustle Management (RMH) through a mutual friend that knew they would hit it off as business partners. Babak was eager to learn more about her vision and why she wanted to do music.
“We talked about life and what’s important and music and why do you love to create,” Silvana explains. “All these questions that other managers and people within the music business didn’t ask me. They didn’t care; it was all about selling CDs, or selling this or selling that. So that made me really want to work with him because there was something more powerful.” She stresses how it is important that the people who work with and for her are aware of the patriarchal consequences, and that they are open-minded and enlightened.
Silvana is the first rapper to sign with Swedish House Mafia’s DJ Ingrosso. With all the record labels reaching out to her, she knew Refune Records was the right fit because of the “clash” of genres. She loved the idea of bringing hip-hop and house techno together. Most importantly, she knew she would remain the boss of her own music.
What can more people in the music industry do to overthrow the patriarchy and destroy sexism?
“If I had the answer to that, all these questions, you should actually just ask a man because male rappers or male artists because they’re the ones who should think about this. They’re the ones who should step back and they’re the ones who should be enlightened like you and I, we’re already enlightened, know about this. There’s so much I can do, I’m already doing it, but the ones who really have to do something and step back are men.” She’s right - we need allies, those who hold themselves accountable.
Why we love her: “That’s why I speak up because if I’m silent, they won, and we’re all silent. And I have a voice. I would die if I didn’t have an outlet and I didn’t use that platform. This is what saved my life.”
More fun facts about this dope rapper: she a holds a degree in Psychology from the University of Stockholm, she wants to get involved in basketball and she is dating one of the hottest pop stars in Sweden, Beatrice Eli.
Silvana’s music and her most recent album “Naturkraft” is available on iTunes and Spotify. This year, you can also find her on the big screen. Documentarians and filmmakers have been filming her for two years and this September 2017 she will be heading to multiple film festivals such as Cannes Film Festival to showcase her life. We are so proud of our member!
Below is a collection of her insights from when she talked to The Wimpact earlier this week:
Immigration has been taking over headlines recently, as an immigrant from Lithuania at 4-years-old to eventually Sweden, how has that shaped you as an artist and as a person?
“It shaped me in every way because, you know, when I was a kid I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I felt like an outsider. I kinda still do but you know. But now I feel like the whole world is my platform, so before when I was younger in Syria, I felt like an immigrant. When I was in Sweden, I felt like an immigrant. When I was in Lithuania, I felt like an immigrant. I felt like there was something wrong not being from that country with me because I just didn’t fit in, but then because that’s how the world is, they make you believe that there’s something wrong with being different. But over the years I met a lot people who felt like me and we built a movement and I don’t care about norms and I don’t care about fitting in or not fitting in. That’s not what matters. What matters is who you are as a person and your values and stuff like that so…”
When did you start to identify as a feminist?
“I’ve had a the same values since I was like 5-years-old. I’ve always thought ‘Well my values are the same.’ But then when the whole discussion, when I first heard the word feminist, ok so ‘What is this? Oh, ok. This is exactly what I’ve been talking about - nice. There’s a name for it.’ I think I’ve been identifying with it, I was a feminist before I knew the word.”
Having family in Syria, what’s your perspective on the overall immigration and refugee situation both in the U.S., Sweden and worldwide?
“They closed the border in April of last year. It’s devastating, of course. They make it look like the world has never been worst than it is now, but that’s not true. People have been migrating for decades… Social media and people are not researching the information. Click bait-information is suppose to come very fast and then disappears, like Twitter. Everything is quick information. You don’t see the sources. I think that’s a very big problem today. I have relatives and family in Syria - it affects them. It’s just horrible because my cousin, she came to Denmark on a boat, five days without water, without food, there are really no words to describe how I feel about it. It’s just the right wing parties are really feeding off of the clickbait news - September 11 terrorists, let’s fight terrorism. That’s how it started, especially since we have a right wing racist apartheid in our government called the Swedish Democrats. They are definitely doing that.”
At what age did you start being interested in music?
“I always listened to rap and I always identified with rap, but I never identified with a rapper because there was no one I could identify with, so I just started. Rap is really discusses all sorts of political issues and that’s why I identified with rap. So basically after that, I was like 7-years-old when I got my first CD...”
How did your relationship with Respect My Hustle Management (RMH) develop and grow over time?
“Basically me and Babak, my manager, came in contact and we started talking and he was like, ‘So why do you want to do music?’ We talked about life and what’s important and music and why do you love to create - all these questions that other managers and people within the music business didn’t ask me. They didn’t care. It was all about selling CDs, or selling this or selling that. We didn’t talk about that at all. So that made me really want to work with him because there was something more powerful. Through a friend of mine, she knew I had all these ideas because I talked to her about what I wanted to do and she was like, ‘You have to speak to Babak. I think you two would get along really well.’ So I contacted him and we met.”
What was it like becoming the first rapper to work with Swedish House Mafia’s Ingrosso and Refune Records?
“We were looking for someone who could distribute my music. A lot of record labels, they reached out to us. We found Refune - the most interesting one because it’s a clash…”
Is there one culture you identify with more than the other (Syria, Lithuania, Sweden)?
“I made a mix of them all: Sweden, Lithuania and Syria. It’s like a mixture of them all. I don’t identify with one more than the other. I don’t believe in borders. I don’t believe in nationalities. Not my strongest belief, but my basic belief because of how the world looks like today. I have to identify with these labels. I don’t care that I’m Syrian. I don’t care that I’m a lesbian. It’s just who you are. It doesn’t define who you are. But just because it’s important, and gay people are discriminated, it’s important to me to really make myself, make my voice heard because you know we’re getting killed out there, so I need to be heard. People come up to me and say, ‘You saved my life. You made me believe in myself. You made me want to come out.’ It’s important now that I have that platform to do that.”
Do you get support from the hip-hop community in Sweden?
“The thing is I never cared about it. I never cared about the support from other artists, or the music industry, and I still don’t care because it’s still a corporation. And so when I look at where I’m at it’s because I’m the voice of the people, so I get support from the people, and that’s all I need. I really don’t care about this or that person because that person is ‘important’ or whatever. These critics or journalists, I don’t care because I let my music speak for itself and if my listeners identify with that, then I’ve done my job.”
How have you experienced injustices in life and in the music industry?
“The first thing is people labeled me as a ‘female rapper’, but you know that was in the beginning and then as time went by and I released more songs and I released my EPs and my album, I made them see that I’m undeniably the greatest rapper in Sweden. So I kind of shut them down through my music. So now you can’t say ‘Oh she’s a female rapper.’ You can say I’m a female rapper, but I’m better than you. I’m selling out fucking shows. There were over 10,000 people there. You could say whatever you want. You can call me a female rapper, whatever, but look who’s selling out shows. That’s the biggest thing - people, well, men, always men who are like, ‘Yeah, it’s because you’re a female rapper.’ But I think that’s every female that does music, or almost every. I feel like almost every female experiences this. It’s different in rap because it’s such a male-dominated genre.”
What can more people in the music industry do to overthrow the patriarchy and destroy sexism?
“…You should actually just ask a man because male rappers or male artists, they’re the ones who should think about this. They’re the ones who should step back and they’re the ones who should be enlightened - like you and I, we’re already enlightened, know about this. There’s so much I can do. I’m already doing it, but the ones who really have to do something and step back are men.”
You told Sway in the Morning you had to hide in the woods due to threats. How do you maintain inspiration after something scary?
“That is my inspiration. If I have to go hiding, and I have a house, I have food on the table, I have money in the bank, I’m good. But imagine all these people who don’t have a voice. Imagine all these people that don’t have a home, those who have to flee their country because of war. That’s what I do it for. It’s about life. It’s not a gimmick. It’s not for the fun of it. For me, of course I’m having fun, but it’s also super important for me to express myself because of what I’ve been through, because what my relatives go through today and what my parents went through coming to Sweden. And what they go through as second-class citizens. That’s why I speak up because if I’m silent, they won, and we’re all silent. And I have a voice. I would die if I didn’t have an outlet and I didn’t use that platform. This is what saved my life.”
Define yourself as a “conscious rapper”.
“Through my music, through what I’m saying, there’s nothing more. If you listen to my music, you understand who I am, my beliefs, You agree with me and like my songs or you like my songs but you don’t agree with me. But the thing is, I don’t think the people who don’t agree with me, listen to my songs. I’m very outspoken like that. I’m just a creator.”