How ‘Baraye,’ a song about Iran’s protests, became an anthem for women, freedom and an ordinary life
As crowds poured through the streets of Iran last month to demonstrate against the government, an up-and-coming 25-year-old singer named Shervin Hajipour began working on a new song.
For the lyrics, he drew on tweets by his fellow Iranians explaining their reasons for joining the rapidly expanding protests. They were many.
For dancing in the streets
For our fear when kissing loved ones
For my sister, your sister, our sisters
For the changing of rotted minds
He set the words to a mournful keyboard melody and titled it “Baraye” — “for the sake of” or “because of” in Persian.
Then, on Sept. 28, he posted it on social media.
Within a day, according to some estimates, it received more than 40 million views, quickly spreading across the nation and to the Iranian diaspora. The government responded by arresting Hajipour, and soon the song was removed from his Instagram page.
But it was too late to suppress it. The protest movement, led by women and young people, had unified a discontented nation across socioeconomic lines, geographic regions and ethnicities. “Baraye” was now its anthem.
Videos posted online show young school girls dancing in a circle and singing the anthem in protest. It blasts from inside apartments and from cars driving past women walking without hijab in quiet defiance.
For embarrassment due to being penniless
For yearning for an ordinary life
For the child laborer and his dreams
For this dictatorial economy
For this polluted air
“I got goosebumps,” said a 26-year-old woman in Tehran, describing her experience of hearing the song. “All around me, people were listening to it feeling misery and pity.”
Like others, she gave only her first name, Armita, for fear of retaliation by the government. People around her — teachers, mothers, young girls — play the song constantly. A receptionist at an English school, she said that schoolgirls are running an anti-hijab campaign, using the song as a driving force behind their movement.
In Karaj, near Tehran, protesters played the song and chanted “Death to the dictator!” and “Woman, life, freedom!” In an Iranian classroom, students wrote the lyrics to “Baraye” on the wall.
A popular video circulating online shows Iranian high school students standing without hijab, their backs facing the camera as they hold hands in front of a whiteboard and sing the song.
In the diaspora, the anthem has taken on a life of its own — remixed, covered and sung at protests from Los Angeles to Europe. The Iranian pop singer Arash played “Baraye” during a packed concert in Canada as the audience sang along.
Iran’s widespread protests were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest and brutal handling by Iran’s morality police for allegedly failing to cover her hair properly and wearing pants that were too tight. But the cry for the rights of women and girls quickly morphed into something much bigger.
For the dogs, innocent but banned
For all these never-ending tears
For never experiencing this moment again
For the smiling faces
For the students, for the future
Past protest movements in Iran have also made use of songs, including “Yare Dabestanie Man,” or “My Grade School Friend,” which was written at the time of the Islamic Revolution and intoned in reformist protests decades later.
But no other uprising has had such a singular anthem, said Nahid Siamdoust, an assistant professor of media and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of “Soundtrack of the Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran.”
“Ultimately, what it calls for is sort of this longing for an ordinary life, bringing together these threads for justice and freedom in Iranian society for all,” she said. “It really stands out for having been a song that was beautifully vocalized by this musician, but that was ultimately written by people at large.”
Sitting in an early morning traffic jam in central Tehran, a 38-year-old woman named Ziba said that the song has provided a sense of unity among Iranians, evoking both joy and anger in a short amount of time.
“The first time I heard it, I felt a sense of amazement. I was tearing up. It was as if all my cries of my past 30 years were being shouted by Shervin’s voice,” she said. “All the things I hadn’t been able to do. All the feelings of being inferior at work and in the society. All the discrimination I encountered.”
She recently saw a young woman who had cut her hair short in protest — as large numbers of women around the world have done in solidarity — holding up her fingers in a “V” sign, Ziba said. The protester was playing “Baraye” as people drove by and honked in solidarity.
“I just cried,” Ziba said. “I listened to the song about 100 times and kept crying.”
When she goes out, she said, it feels as though everyone is humming the song. She doesn’t protest much herself, but the song has emboldened her to take off her hijab in public spaces — in the car, at the shopping center, when she picks her son up from school.
“Shervin has put all the sorrow of a nation in this song,” she said.
Her friend, Shadi, said that she listens to the song on repeat and cries when she is home alone and her 8-year-old daughter is at school.
Last week, Iranian state media reported that Hajipour had been released on bail. On Sunday, his lawyer tweeted that the singer has been barred from leaving the country for six months and stands accused of “propaganda against the system” and “inciting people to violent acts.”
In recent Instagram posts, Hajipour thanked his supporters for their kindness and said that he was doing fine, instructing them not to worry. He added that he will not being doing any interviews.
The singer wrote that he loved Iran and that he wanted to stay there “for my country, my flag and my people” and continue singing.
But in a sentence that led fans to speculate that he was being coerced by Iranian authorities, Hajipour also suggested that his song had been co-opted and used in a way that he never intended: “I’m saddened that those outside the boundaries of Iran, with which I have no relationship, misused my song after its release for political reasons.”
That doesn’t seem to have slowed a social media campaign to select “Baraye” for the Grammys’ newest special award category, which honors a song promoting social change. As of Tuesday, nearly 100,000 people had gone to the Recording Academy website to nominate the anthem.
For the feeling of peace
For the sunrise after long dark nights
For the stress and insomnia pills
For man, motherland, prosperity
For the girl who wished she was born a boy
For woman, life, freedom
Special correspondent Khazani reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Parvini from Los Angeles.
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