Pop singer Helly Luv has been in the news for some time now.
What is it that makes this Kurdish star so controversial?
Maybe the fact that she almost risked her life to make her music video that mocks Isis and hence had a price put on her head after the video became an international hit, crossing over four million views on YouTube.
Her original name is Helan Abdulla and she was born in northern Iraq, also known as Kurdistan. The 26 year old risked her life while trying to get footage for her second video “Revolution”, which was shot at an approximate of three kilometers from the ISIS fanatics based in Iraq.
The video that went viral starts with an attack of ISIS on a simple Kurdish village. The militants arrive in a tank, there is destruction, death, anger, fear on the faces of the public, and Helly walks towards the tank holding a single banner -“Stop the Violence”. She continues to sport a Peshmerga uniform and heels, dancing atop burnt out cars. Even though the song is meant to be anti-war, she undertakes a few military drills with the Kurdish fighters.
The singer also known as the “Kurdish Shakira“, happens to be the daughter of a female Peshmerga, who was born in Iran and later went on to take asylum in Finland before moving to Los Angeles at age 18 in a bid to become a star. She spends part of her time in the Kurdish capital of Irbil, about 55 miles from Mosul, ISIS operation zone. She considers herself to be one of the Peshmerga, that’s why she wears a uniform to show it as a form of support. Sometimes filming was put on halt because bullets would whizz in her direction from ISIS militants, but she refused to back down and kept on going back till the filming was complete. She is still in danger as she was placed on an ISIS “most wanted” list and was into hiding for several months.
She was not afraid during the whole process, as she said, “I’ve sacrificed everything for this. I know there will not be normal life again. What is most important is I get the message out to the world and that together we can stop these people”. The Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Syria and Iraq been the most formidable foes for ISIS also known as Islamic State or ISIL, They managed to push them out of areas they once dominated and thrashing them in battle despite little air support from the Coalition.
Can she go international?
Though Luv is keen to continue making her music videos in Kurdistan, she also has a close eye on the international market. She is based in the US since she was 18, and has worked with famous names like Carlos McKinney (a Grammy nominated American record producer / jazz pianist/ R&B songwriter/ producer of The-Dream). Though more recently, she is to play the lead role in a new film by Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi and has also been offered a role in a new movie alongside the famous Jennifer Lopez. “Even though I am Kurdish I am still focused more on the international market. My dream is just to inspire people to risk it all and not give up, as for Kurdistan; I am even more excited and proud of my country for how far it has come. The future is very bright and I can’t wait for the day we can raise the Kurdish flag on Independence Day”, she said.
She came in the news with her first single “Risk It All”, where she is seen with two lions, draping herself over them and dancing with a chromed AK47.
She released her debut video, on 3rd February 2015 and has been receiving millions of views on YouTube. Gawain Bracy, her manager and chief executive at G2 music group said,”[She’s had] various death threats … mainly through social media,” but “we do not wish to publish names of these Islamic groups because we do not wish to glorify their actions.” Bracy explained that despite the threats, Helly Luv whose family fled Iraq in the year 1988 before settling finally in Finland, returned back in Iraqi Kurdistan to work on a follow up after her first video, although this time there was a security detail.
The motivation behind Luv’s courage
Helly Luv wears heavy makeup, has bright red hair, wears customized military outfits and gold rifle shaped rings knowing her songs would draw the fury of ISIS. She said that it was kind of the point. “As an artist my weapon is not guns, my weapon is my music,” she said. “If I can fight against them with my music, then my song is as powerful as or more powerful than their weapons.”
She got a chance to fire a live shell at an ISIS position in the process of shooting her video as an added bonus. “It was amazing,” she said. “I was screaming, ‘more, more!’ I just hope I didn’t hurt any animals. I’m going against the most dangerous terrorist group in the whole world but I feel that there are thousands of people risking their lives against them on the battlefield,” she told. “If my life is at risk but I can get the message to millions of people then that is a privilege.” She urges “the world needs more artists who speak about issues instead of just clubs and women”
Her father, like his father before him fought with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. When the war ended, he joined Luv and her mother in Turkey, from here the family sought asylum in Finland. They settled in Lahti, about 65 miles north of Helsinki. Life was tough then as she was the only girl in her class who had dark hair and dark eyes. All her classmates were blond with blue eyes. She took security in dancing and music, learning how to play the piano and ballet, modern as well as hip-hop dance.
Luv shot her video in northern Iraq’s city of Erbil last August, where she saw an influx of Yazidi refugees escaping various persecution of the group called Isis. She said their predicament; the armed resistance of her Kurdish countrymen to the militants menace inspired her to write the lyrics to Revolution. “United, united we’re marching, yeah. Rise up ’cause we’re so much stronger as one. Breaking the silence as loud as a gun.”
Some believe that her art is simply too risky.
She’s a gorgeous singer, actress and an uber model, who just happens to have gate crashed the Cannes Film Festival to promote the film “Peshmerga” – a documentary yet will probably be called propaganda. In truth 40% of the Peshmerga and the YPJ fighters in northern Syria are women, this also scares Daesh for religious reasons, since being killed by a woman in battle denies their entrance into Paradise. She is a refugee success story from Kurdistan to Iran to Turkey to Finland than to Los Angeles and New York. She is resolute about spreading the message she learned and earned by accepting her culture. That is the message of peace, unity and freedom is powerfully needed all around the world.