Kurdish Women

Meet Zhala: The Queer Kurdish Pop Singer


Her mother was a Peshmerga fighter. Her father lives in Iraqi Kurdistan. Today, Zhala is the most recent pop music phenomenon to come out of Sweden. Frequently called the “protégé” of the famous Swedish pop singer, Robyn, Zhala is taking the Swedish pop music scene by storm.

A Blended Background

While Zhala is ethnically Kurdish, she has lived in Sweden almost her entire life. Dubbed “the Kurdish Lady Gaga,” Zhala identifies as Kurdish, Swedish, and as queer — and her unique music reflects this identity. She says that identity, nationality, spirituality and politics are all inherent themes of her music, because they’re all big parts of her life.

Zhala’s mother fled Iraqi Kurdistan in the 1980’s, after spending years fighting Saddam Hussein as part of the Kurdish Peshmerga. Zhala says that, from a young age, her outspoken mother taught her how to speak up.

Zhala’s father still lives in Iraqi Kurdistan, and she visited him as recently as 2013. Zhala recounts how when she visited, gunshots were discharged in the garden outside. She recalls how calm her father was, even laughing at the situation. His calm nature was horribly dark, she says.

A Crack in the Wall

When asked her opinion about the recent elections in Turkey, Zhala replied,

Things are happening. There was a crack in the Berlin Wall for the people to look through and see the other side. Right now, there is a crack for the Kurdish people. We need to get more people and get through everywhere.

This metaphorical crack in the wall can be seen in many parts of the Middle East. In addition to the recent Turkish elections that brought in a pro-Kurdish party, Syria has seen a strengthening of Kurdish-governed region called Rojava, and Kurdish language has recently been implemented in schools and universities across Iran.

Zhala wants her voice to be the voice of an artist, not a “pre-packaged” political voice. To achieve this, she performs at art galleries, and has a unique performance style, including the use of Kurdish flags, tie die sheets, hookahs and spray bottles of rose water.

Fighting with Music

Another Kurdish pop singer shares something in common with Zhala. Helly Luv, a Kurdish pop singer who lives in the United States, is also speaking up about her people. Helly Luv’s most recent video featured footage from Iraqi Kurdistan, taken several miles from the border with ISIS.

While the two singers have different music and different backgrounds, they are both using pop as a medium to raise awareness for the Kurds. They believe in the power of using music to open conversations. Watch the music video for Zhala’s new song, “Holy Bubbles” below:

[Read more at GOOD Magazine]

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