GUEST WRITER YASMIN BROWN considers a timely album by an Iraqi Kiwi

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GUEST WRITER YASMIN BROWN considers a timely album by an Iraqi Kiwi
As politics become more polarised, political commentary is becoming stronger, and while it has long since seeped into (or indeed, driven) punk music, as these issues become more prevalent in day to day life, pop music is now embracing such themes, too. 

One wonderful example of this is Yasamin, a young woman whose recently released Songs Over Baghdad album is made up of songs that pull from the personal experiences of being an Iranian Kiwi and all of the turmoil that identity brings.

Most notable throughout Songs Over Baghdad is the theme of division in her homeland and the strong aversion Yasamin has to the ‘othering’ that takes place worldwide.

This theme is brought in immediately during Babylon (“when are we gonna to being one”), a piano-driven song that sounds like the peace Yasamin is wishing for in a reference to that ancient city in present day Iraq.

It’s here we learn trumpets will be a frequent addition to this album, too, only adding to the serenity that encompasses the sound of this album.

And therein lies the true beauty in this record.

Screenshot_2020_12_07_at_20.17.26However dire the circumstances that Yasamin is describing – Maybe It's America points a finger although adds “maybe it's the rest of us” – through her slightly accented voice, the musical tones allow you to remain calm and hopeful that things can improve. Even as she expresses her disdain at how our faith is used to divide us, or her anger at the use of guns to ‘solve’ problems, there is only sadness, not a hint of hatred seeps into her voice or its musical accompaniment.

She has every reason to be angry, too -- as someone who hails from Iran but also considers New Zealand to be home. The Christchurch Mosque shooting (first addressed in her song October) hit close to home for Yasamin.

This particular tragedy is at the forefront of Terror Comes in All Colour, a song so happy sounding yet so thematically dark that it’s shrouded in sarcasm. Here we learn of the frustration that comes from the fact that a perpetrator’s skin colour seems to dictate whether an act of violence is considered terrorism or not, as well as the underlying racism that exists in the most normal of places - with a particular focus on so-called ‘random’ security checks at airports.

These topics are hard to swallow, particularly when you consider that Yasamin has left a turbulent country only to find more racism in New Zealand (Scarf about how the hijab provokes a response), but while it may be for a different reason, it might be Paris of the Middle East that’s the most cutting.

A track that could be interpreted in varying ways, Yasamin paints a picture of something/someone/somewhere that used to be glorious but that has now been pushed down until it’s a fraction of what it once was.

Growing up somewhere terrible is one thing -- it’s harder to miss what you never had -- but to see Baghdad go from being the ‘City of Peace’ to a place of such severe conflict is a devastating notion of loss on a grand scale.

And it’s this loss of peace that envelopes Songs Over Baghdad, even as we move into the synthy pop number, Baghdad Boy. Essentially a love song delivered through unabashed pop, it still revolves heavily around the idea of peace, and as we move into the uplifting penultimate track, We’re All Gonna Be Okay, Yasamin begs for us to stop this ‘us and them’ mentality that seems to permeate societies of all kinds. It’s a lesson in forgiveness and coming together, again making perfect use of trumpets to create a soothing and serene atmosphere that defines much of the record.

Screen_Shot_2020_12_08_at_9.48.42_PMThis album isn’t highly polished or expertly produced. But it is real, raw and filled with talent and emotion that most well-established artists never achieve.

Where it would be easy to thrive on hatred and anger, Yasamin draws only from inner peace and a wish to extend this peace to the world.

If we could all speak as candidly as Yasamin, and have our thoughts and feelings considered with an open mind, the world might just be a much better place.

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You can hear this album on Spotify here

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Yasmin Brown -- who regularly contributes EP reviews to Elsewhere -- is a dedicated music lover and avid critic, who completed her PGDip in Communication Studies at Auckland University of Technology. She’s at her peak when buried in the middle of a mosh pit, and now continues to pursue her love of live music journalism in Cambridge, UK, often finding herself popping to London to check out her favourite bands, as well as discovering a mass of new talent.

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