Muslim women find an outlet for their voices

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Selina Ditty has gone into the recording studio as a result of encouragement from Deeyah Selina Ditty has gone into the recording studio as a result of encouragement from Deeyah

From arranged marriage to life in a post-9/11 world, the experiences and opinions of young Muslim women are expressed on a new album giving them a springboard into the music industry.

Sisterhood is a project giving female Muslim rappers, singers, songwriters, musicians and poets the chance to showcase their work. The project, operating largely through an internet networking system, offers support, encouragement and practical advice on how to get into the music industry.

Launched last autumn, the collective has now released an album of songs written by young up-and-coming female Muslim singers. The tracks reflect their personal experiences and deal with a range of issues, from the war in Iraq to racism, love, romance, women's rights and faith.

There are currently 18 artists involved, most from the UK, and a number from other countries including America and the United Emirates.

The project is the brainchild of a musician called Deeyah who chose tracks for the album - called Deeyah Presents Sisterhood - from scores submitted to her.

"This is the first small step towards encouraging these artists and others like them out there to pursue their dreams and hopes," says Deeyah. "And it's a way of letting them know they're not alone in their struggles to get their music and message out there.

"Although some of the ladies on the project are at the very beginning of their musical journey and just starting to explore and discover their creative and artistic expression, I hope that with this project they will find inspiration and encouragement from each other to further develop and hone their craft."

Deeyah says the idea is to create a platform for women to air their opinions through music, as both artists and Muslim women living in Western societies.

"Female Muslim artists face a tough time," says Deeyah. "There's very little support. Many of them have been actively discouraged, even by their own communities, from expressing their thoughts and dreams through music. But they are not alone, as this first collection proves. They have something to say and they deserve to be heard."

Bradford singer/songwriter Selina Ditta, aka Jus1Jam, is one of several Bradford artists who have got on board.

"I initially met Deeyah when I was 11. She came to perform and give a talk at my school and, as a budding rapper, I felt a connection with her," says Selina. "I submitted some of my work to her, then last year I heard about Sisterhood through MySpace. Deeyah gets in touch with people through MySpace and helps them with recording and promoting opportunities."

While Selina had been writing poetry for much of her life, she had no experience of performing.

"I didn't think of myself as a performer, but when Deeyah read my poetry she said, You should record this.' She gave me lots of advice and helped me get involved with the recording process.

"I recorded some vocals at a studio in Tong. I enjoyed the performing side and it helped me get my work out there. Now I'm focusing on writing for other people."

Selina's track, a dance number called Ride (A Requiem), is about the end of a relationship. "It's about dealing with that and moving on," she says. "The tracks on the album cover a range of issues, some of them not what you'd expect from young Muslim females.

"It's difficult for Muslim women to make their mark in this industry because they're not generally encouraged or even allowed to do so.

"But there's a lot of talent out there. We have the passion and creativity, and this project helps us take it further. I never knew there were so many other women in Bradford who want to make music. We don't set out to offend; we just want to express ourselves.

"My parents have always encouraged my writing, but for other women that's not the case. Sisterhood offers support, encouragement and practical advice, it nurtures women to become performers."

Selina says some tracks reflect the experiences of Muslim women. "One song, called Judge, is about honour killings and another is about arranged marriages.

"On the album there's a song by Bradford artist MC Suriya called Breaking The Silence about her struggle to get into the music industry, and another one from singer/songwriter/producer Kiran Zamman called I Have A Dream, about post-9/11 life. She's also written about her experiences of racism.

"There's a song about the struggle of women in Afghanistan and another, called I Won't Cry, is about a relationship. The album raises awareness of issues affecting us, both as women and Muslims, and shows we have something to say."

Selina says the album has had positive feedback. "Asian boys have been particularly supportive, which is really encouraging," she says. "There's a mix of styles on the album; singers, poets, rappers. Some of it's a bit folksy, and there are ballads and more uptempo dance stuff.

"There's also some of what my mum calls the golden oldies'; Bollywood music from old films and covers of songs by artists like Jill Scott. There are some great melodies on there."

  • Deeyah Presents Sisterhood is available to listen to on myspace.com/ deeyahpresents

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