After being sentenced to death in May for releasing controversial song lyrics in his home country of Iran, international rapper Shahin Najafi spoke Sunday afternoon at UC Berkeley as part of the Berkeley Lecture Series.
The event was planned by the Iranian Students Alliance in America and focused on Najafi’s most controversial single, “Naghi,” which prompted the death sentence.
Shortly after the song was released, the Iranian rapper was forced into hiding after an anonymous source offered a $100,000 bounty for his execution on a website. Najafi was forced to leave behind his family in Germany, where he had been living since 2005 after he was first threatened in Iran for staging underground concerts.
Though the song was criticized for its references to “Ali al-Hadi al-Naqi,” a religious figure treasured by many Iranians, it has received more than half a million views on YouTube.
Since May, the campus chapter of the ISAA has taken action to raise awareness of the dangers of religious extremists in the Middle East and has invited other celebrities like Najafi who are crossing boundaries with the government to speak on campus.
Omid Solari, a UC Berkeley sophomore and external affairs and event coordinator at the ISAA, said that Najafi is a voice of opposition in Iran and speaks on behalf of many Iranian-Americans looking for government reform in the Middle-Eastern country.
“(Najafi’s) songs point to what bothers people in Iran and, consequently, here as well, like women’s rights and the tyranny of the government,” Solari said. “People came to this talk to not only show sympathy for someone who is being sentenced by religious extremists but also to see how he states his worries and thoughts through song.”
During the lecture, Najafi said he never thought his lyrics would garner such an extreme reaction and that he did not intend to create this controversy.
Most of the controversy surrounding Najafi is related to his modernist views about women’s rights and sexuality, something he discussed during the talk. His lyrics go into depth about the female body, and the cover of his album depicts a photo of a mosque that resembles a breast, appalling some in Iran.
Still, Najafi said that he has hopes for the future in Iran because hoping is the only thing he can do. He added that he will be back at UC Berkeley on Nov. 16 for a concert in Wheeler Auditorium.