Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog





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Fireman’s Ball


glistening in the heated night glow

yr arced torso radiates


the sculpted bronze intensity

of an earth toned ewe passion mask


yr hypnotic breasts

are brown mesmerizing eyes, yr nipples


dilated pupils aroused into

elongated surprise


yr navel a heavy




with every sharp breath


& listen

that dark forest, yr sideways mouth


silently chants the sacred syllables

of my secret name


as i plunge into the discovery

of its musky depths


unable to stand

i joyously recline


jumping in the happy immolation

of yr explosive flame


—kalamu ya salaam 



Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Roland HH Biswurm – drums


Recorded: May 31, 1998 – Munich, Germany








okay africa

MAY 21, 2015





Future Sound of Mzansi

If you haven’t already noticed, South Africa’s cultural sphere is enjoying an exciting golden period of new and diverse forms of artistic expression — most notably within the realms of electronic music. The infinitely talented Spoek Mathambo is often seen as one of the chief ambassadors of this new “Mzansi renaissance,” and his new documentary Future Sound of Mzansi is a powerful exploration and interrogation of South Africa’s fertile creative scene.

Directed by Mathambo himself and Lebogang Rasethaba of Egg FilmsFuture Sound of Mzansi explores the past, present and future of South Africa’s electronic music scene and the multitude of sub-genres that lie within it. The film also features an exciting cast of the country’s leading artists and includes interviews with OkmalumkoolkatNozinjaJumping Back SlashBlack CoffeeChristian Tiger SchoolBIG FKN GUNDJ Spoko, and Sibot.

Part one of the three-part series, now available through Vice’s THUMP, introduces the fresh new sounds originating from townships and urban areas in cities like Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. The idea of regionalism in the development of South African electronic music’s seemingly endless amount of genres becomes the central theme of this first installment. Artists such as Nozinja and Black Coffee offer interesting tid-bits and passionate insight from their own experiences of how representation and ownership of identity play important roles in the unique music they create. Watch part one of Spoek Mathambo’s Future Sound Mzansi below and revisit his Future Sound of Mzansi curated mixtape series.






okay player

MAY 9, 2014





Just when we thought Spoek Mathambo‘s April/May winning streak was coming to a close, he’s come through with a new cherry on top of his already outstanding year. In conjunction with an upcoming trailer for Future Sound Of Mzansi — a forthcoming documentary film by Nthato Mokgata (aka Spoek) and filmmaker Lebogang Rasethaba, who spent two years looking at South Africa’s “cultural landscape” through the lens of its electronic music scene — Spoek hand-picked 70 minutes of electronica/beats/house bliss for a “Future Sound Of Mzansi Mix.” The mix features the likes of OkmalumkoolkatJohn WizardsJumping Back SlashMash.OMaramzaChristian Tiger SchoolBIG FKN GUNHlaskoMoonchildBateleurOl’takWildebeatsCard On Spokes, and more. Listen on below and download the mix over here.

Future Sound Of Mzansi Mix (SA Electronic Music Mix)

Fantasma – Eye Of The Sun (Dj Mpula Remix)

Maramza – Sekwa Sithi_ft_Ruffest

Hlasko – Time



Okmalumkoolkat – Safe & Sound

ELPHNT – Bleep_Bloop

DJ Zinhle – My name Is ft Busiswa (Maramza Mix)

BIG FKN GUN – GQOMA ft. Manelis


Bateleur – Divorce (Christian Tiger School Remix)

Ol’tak – Manifest

Card On Spokes – Chocolate Covered Weekend

Cutting Gems – Tonight Baby

Maramza – Tearz

Wildebeats – Sexy Rich Girl

John Wizards – LEUK (OX++_Remix)

John Wizards – Hogsback

Pegasus Warning – The Mountain (Mujava, Spoko, Spoek Mathambo Remix)

Eltonnick Feat. Max Tutu – Benda

Madanon, Mreyza, ceeyaah ‘n Pilado – Idimoni

Tribal Warriors – Lerato ft. Noe-Li (Prod. by Dj Spoko & Panyaza)


Oskido Ft. Candy – Tsa Mandebele

Mash.O – The Village

Bhar ft Dj Tira and Sir_Bubzin – Uyabhampa

MrAppleSawc – Clicks Ticks

Jumping Back Slash – Plateaux

Jumping Back Slash – Always Unfinished But Never Outgunned

Madanoni ‘n oBen 10 – Opopayi (Ndakx n Xtralarge)













southern indiana review

2015 Thomas A. Wilhelmus Award

Submission Guidelines

Southern Indiana Review will award a prize of $2000 and publication in SIR for a work of creative nonfiction written in English submitted under the following guidelines.

Download Printable Guidelines >>

Each submission must:

  • Be available for exclusive publication in Vol. 22, No. 2 of SIR. Simultaneous submissions are acceptable, but if the entry is published/accepted by another publication while under consideration, the author must promptly notify SIR in writing to withdraw the entry. 
  • Include an entry fee of $20 ($5 for each additional entry submitted). This non-refundable fee includes a year’s subscription to SIR. Make check or money order payable to Southern Indiana Review. Please do not send cash.
  • List the author’s name, street address, email address (if applicable), phone number, and title of submission on a cover page.
  • List only the title of submission on each page thereafter.
  • Be fewer than 35 typed pages (12-point font) per each individual submission.
  • Be addressed to Southern Indiana Review, Thomas A. Wilhelmus Award, University of Southern Indiana, 8600 University Boulevard, Evansville, IN, 47712.
  • Be postmarked or electronically uploaded by June 1, 2015.
  • Include SAS postcard for receipt acknowledgement and/or SASE for contest results. All manuscripts will be recycled. Results will be posted on the SIR web site.
  • Current and former students of Elena Passarello (excluding conference/short-term workshops) are not eligible for the Award.
  • Current and former students and employees of the University of Southern Indiana are not eligible for the Award.
    All contest submissions will be considered for publication. All themes and/or subject matters are eligible. Handwritten submissions will not be accepted. All rights revert to the writer upon publication.












american short fiction

Now Open:

American Short Fiction


We are excited to announce that the ASF Short Story Contest opened for submissions on March 15. This year we are honored to have the fabulous author (and latest WINNER of the Story Prize) Elizabeth McCracken as our guest judge.General Guidelines

- Submit your entry online between March 15, 2015 – June 15, 2015.

- The first-place WINNER will receive a $1,000 prize and publication in our spring issue. One runner-up will receive $500 and all entries will be considered for publication.

- Please submit your $20 entry fee and your work through Submittable. We no longer accept submissions by post. International submissions in English are eligible. The entry fee covers one 6,500 word fiction submission.

- All entries must be single, self-contained works of fiction, between 2,000-6,500 words. Please DO NOT include any identifying information on the manuscript itself.

- You may submit multiple entries.  We accept only previously unpublished work.  We do allow simultaneous submissions, but we ask that you notify us promptly of publication elsewhere.

Conflicts of Interest

Staff and volunteers currently affiliated with American Short Fiction are ineligible for consideration or publication. Additionally, students, former students, and colleagues of the judge are not eligible to enter. We ask that previous WINNERS wait three years after their winning entry is published before entering again.


Elizabeth McCrackenElizabeth McCracken is the author of five books: Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry(stories), the novels The Giant’s House and Niagara Falls All Over Again, the memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, and the collection THUNDERSTRUCK & Other Stories, for which she was just awarded the 2015 Story Prize.  She’s received grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Liguria Study Center, the American Academy in Berlin, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

She has taught creative writing at Western Michigan UNIVERSITY, the University of Oregon, the University of Houston, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  She holds the James A. Michener Chair in Fiction at the University of Texas, Austin.

In her novel The Giant’s House, McCracken characterized the relationship between readers and the books in their hands as a kind of intimate, resilient alliance: “given even the worst of circumstances, they get together. In the privacy of their own homes or on park benches or on public buses, in the corner of the reference room, at the end of an aisle of fiction, in the middle of the alphabet, they club up and conspire.”  But for McCracken, the relationship is really more a romance than anything else, a true affair of the heart. Her work is as widely praised for its natural warmth as for its unmistakeable wit.  Of her own fiction writing, she has said:  “I am writing love letters to diaries and post-it notes and telegrams and BIRTHDAY CARDS. I am writing love letters to love letters.”

Perhaps that lovely advice can encourage you as you work on your submissions.  Good luck!

DEADLINE: June 15, 2015.











boston review poetry

Boston Review

Annual Poetry Contest


DeadlineJune 1, 2015
Judge: Cathy Park Hong
First Prize: $1,500 and publication


Complete guidelines:
The winning poet will receive $1,500 and have his or her work published in the November/December 2015 issue of Boston Review. Submit up to five unpublished poems, no more than 10 pages total. Any poet writing in English is eligible, unless he or she is a current student, former student, relative, or close friend of the judge. Mailed manuscripts must be submitted in duplicate, with a cover note listing the author’s name, address, email, and phone number. No cover note is necessary for online submissions. Names and other identifying information must not be on the poems themselves. Simultaneous submissions are not permitted, submissions will not be returned, and submissions may not be modified after entry. Failure to comply with any contest guidelines may result in your submission being disqualified. A non-refundable $20 entry fee, payable to Boston Review in the form of a check or money order or byCREDIT CARD, must accompany all submissions. All submitters receive a complimentary half-year subscription (3 issues) to Boston Review. Mailed submissions must be postmarked no later than June 1, 2015.

TheWINNER will be announced in the fall on the Boston Review Web site. All poems submitted to the contest will be considered for publication in Boston Review.

Please enter online using our contest entry manager. This requires payment using aCREDIT CARD.

Or mail submissions to:

Poetry Contest, Boston Review
PO Box 425786
Cambridge, MA 02142

Read winning poems from past years:
francine j. harris (2014)
Scott Coffel (2013)
Sarah Crossland

Heather Tone (2011)
Anthony Caleshu (2010)
John Gallaher (2009)
Sarah Arvio (2008)
Elizabeth Willis (2007)
Marc Gaba (2006)
Mike Perrow (2005)
Michael Tod Edgerton (2004)
Susan Wheeler (2003)
Max Winter (2002)
D. A. Powell (2001)
Christopher Edgar (2000)
Stephanie Strickland (1999)
Daniel Bosch (1998)

For more poetry in Boston Review, click here.

















“Sunshine, Noodles and Me” is the inspiring and heartwarming documentary about an African American woman’s journey of survival. When Cheryl Ash-Simpson discovers that she has cancer just three days before her wedding, she begins a life-changing adventure of living and working in South East Asia.

Cheryl Ash-Simpson shares her heartwarming story, giving an honest portrayal of her battle with breast cancer and her determination to beat the disease. With the love and support of her fiance’, Cheryl shows you that can get through adversity, especially if you’re armed with love.

‘Sunshine, Noodles and Me’ is directed by Joyce Fitzpatrick and Brian Shackelford.














May 4, 2015




Favela women


in Rio de Janeiro


by Zaneta Denny


“We used to go to another neighborhood to get water. Everyone lived with a bucket of water on their heads. We also had no light. The light was from the old Zoological Garden, and it was not enough. We couldn’t get light because the light didn’t enter inside of the community, it wasn’t legalized.” This describes Vila Isabel, the Morro dos Macocos favela in Rio de Janeiro circa 1958.

“Then it was a trickle of light, split for many people,” recalls Dona Ana Marcondes Faria. “In the night we had to turn off appliances, the refrigerator. We had to turn everything off and stand with a lit candle.” But things changed for Faria when she and her husband arrived in Morro dos Macocos, which literally means “monkey hill.”

“We joined the locals,” she continues. “My husband bought a Doodle and called the villagers to come to the backyard of my house so we could develop strategies to improve our living condition.”

She founded the Residents Association in 1962. Access to water came “well after.” Faria experienced racism in the favela. “When I came to live here in this favela,” she recalls, “a lot of people came here from the north of Brazil, mainly from Paraíba, Ceará. When they arrived here in Rio they mostly found black people, and they brought with them the idea of white supremacy. That only white is beautiful.”

“One of the greatest problems was mothers who had to work and had nowhere to leave their children,” she says. So she started a creche and it’s been there ever since. CEACA-Vila now caters to over 500 children and young people, offering supplementary classes, computer training, and environmental awareness projects. “When I came here and taught private lessons at home, I had a student who was the son of a family of Northerners. And when his father saw that the teacher was black, he was shocked. A black women giving classes, a teacher? He did not believe that black women could teach.” She did not let these attitudes deter her.

Apart from a handful of high-profile figures like Senator Benedita da Silva, female rappers like Kmila CDD, or emerging social enterprise stars like Regina Tchelly from Favela Orgânica, most favela women are relatively hidden from public life in Brazil. To put it crudely, they suffer prejudice because of their postcode. Favelas around Rio and elsewhere in Brazil are not seen as part of the city. They’re treated like a fifth column, a place of irreconcilable violence, where people need to be contained and controlled.

“Even if they are in the middle of the city, geographically speaking they are not considered as part of the city,” explains Shirley Villela, a former representative for Brazil at the United Nations Womens Agency. She now runs Redes da Desenvolvimento Maré, a non-governmental development organization that boasts a culinary business class for women. “[The favela] is like another place that is here, but it doesn’t have the same rules, or the same rights, especially for blacks.”

“Because of all the poverty and the low income of the families, a lot of the women have stopped school very early in their lives. Or because they have to study at night since the families need them working,” Villela laments. Favela women are essentially propping up the community, in the good times and the bad.

Rejany dos Santos Ferreira, a geography teacher who also heads up Mulheres de Atitude, a favela feminist organization, cites the author Carolina Maria de Jesus, recognized as one of the first Afro-Brazilian women to produce a firsthand account of favela realities in O Quarto de Despejo.

“She says that the favela is a storeroom where the state puts all of the unwanted. They get thrown right there.” That is, the poor black population of Brazil. “The state where will adopt remedial and punitive public policies…Now six thousand policemen will be hired.”

Inequality in education has a domino effect on favela women and in turn on the entire community. Ferreira teaches in the Manguinhos, a favela which has the city’s third-lowest Human Development Index.

“We go into schools and teachers earn very little,” or, she says, there is no teacher. “So these [favela] women have to work. Access to education is limited, with kids only going up to the fourth grade, or only finishing primary education.” Some of Ferreira’s students in her adult education CLASSES ARE teenage mothers fourteen or fifteen years old. It’s a situation similar to another favela, Complex do Maré, which has 140,000 residents and only two high schools.

Faveladores’ inclusion in the mainstream of the city is usually only made possible through labor, or through the mediating efforts of a non-Black person. Brazilian favela women are effectively kettled into a harsh intersection of race, gender, poverty, and class. Kia Caldwell in Negras in Brazil calls this a “Brazilian apartheid.”

Faria states that this is an issue of double standards in a state that “requires healthy middle class people,” adding that “the most needy need to have more support in order to form an equal society with the same opportunities.”

Although favelas are not spaces of perpetual violence, violence is a daily reality which ultimately hurts favela women the most. In Rochina favela, 60% of incidents reported to the 11th Police Precinct are related to the Maria da Penha law, Brazil’s anti-domestic violence measure offering support services for victims.

Villela is elucidative about the women she works with in the Maré. “Some of them suffered from domestic violence, even from their fathers. Sometimes they were young when they got married, and sometimes marriage marks the start of abuse by their partners. They suffer the violence of their personal lives and also the violence around them. They live in a place where drug dealers fight for territories, filled with boys and young people that work for them because of family that were killed by the police, or because their fathers have been unemployed for a long time.”

Villela cites the example of one woman forced to be a maid to her family by her stepmother. “Until she started to work with us she’d never been outside of Maré, can you believe that? Twenty-five years living in a closed community?”

International organizations like the United Nations may be too big to provide the appropriate depth of action needed in these wounded areas.

“We wanted to reach these women but we never saw them,” Villela says in reference to her time at the UN Womens’ Agency. “Now I can go there and see them and touch them and talk to them. I feel more alive. I’m not only in the office doing reports and making accounts about the project, I’m there with them, listening to them. It’s a totally different way of working.”

The last time President Dilma Rousseff visited the Maré ahead of the elections last year, some people threw stones at her car. Despite being the preferred candidate for left wing communities, many felt the second round of voting was a choice between two evils. The nationwide anti-corruption protests on 15 March this year did not help her standing in the favela.

“The social inequality is going to condemn Brazil and other countries,” said Villela. “We can’t live like this anymore. The favelas are the result of many bad historical decisions about where we should invest. We have big private property in Brazil. It’s like a private city within the city, with large lands owned by a single family. This is historical, this is the base of the inequality in the country and it’s still there.”

Change is needed on an immense scale. This brings to mind what the American feminist Eve Ensler said on International Women’s Day. “We all need to be activists.” Favela activists recognize this acute reality. They’re still trying to let the light in.

Zaneta Denny is a London based Black British writer and blogger of Caribbean and Guyanese descent. She is developing her blog Creolita Culture into a magazine. She has a degree in European Studies with French from King’s College London.

Images credit: Kristin Bethge.





enliven project

December 1st, 2012




The truth about

false accusation



The fear of getting falsely accused of rape just doesn’t compare to the fear of an actual rapist getting away with his or her crime.  Statistics from Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010 and FBI reports.  NOTE (2/6/13):  As so many people continue to visit this site and share this convo-graphic, we’ve updated this post to include the context from this post.


As a wife, mom, survivor, and regular person until Monday morning, I am overwhelmed and astounded by the reaction and response to the “Truth About False Accusation” infographic, and encouraged by the dialogue that has emerged as a result of it.  Thank you to each and every person who shared it, debated it, loved it, and hated it.

We accept and encourage debate on this and any future infographics released by The Enliven Project.  Given the massive amount of media coverage and online discussion about it, I wanted to provide some additional – and more well-thought out – context to the purpose of the graphic and The Enliven Project, as well as to address a bit of criticism about the data we used.

The purpose of this graphic is to compare (primarily men’s) fear of being falsely accused of being a rapist to the many challenges around reporting, prosecuting, and punishing rapists.

Two key figures drive that point home:

  • A reporting rate of 10%
  • A false reporting rate of 2%

The other decision we made was to present data that fell within documented ranges, rather than reflect the findings of a particular report, because of the inherent challenge in collecting data on this issue.  Said another way: at the moment, an argument could be made that every source is flawed in some way.  The reason we pursued a composite approach instead of relying on one study was exactly to spark discussion about the underlying data and definitions, and – perhaps most importantly – the current challenges in data collection.

For example – here are a handful of challenges that we encountered while putting together the infographic and, as a result, some limitations of the infographic itself:

  • The federal data provides arrest, conviction, and incarceration rates on forcible rape only, NOT other forms of sexual violence.
  • Until 2012, the federal definition of rape was limited to penetration of a vagina by a penis.  Therefore, 100% of rapists would have to be men.
  • The difference between a false report (how data is counted and being falsely accused (the fear at the individual level).  Lonesway, Archembault, and Lisak, the authors of the article from The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, use the following definition: A false report is a report of a sexual assault that did not happen (i.e., it was not completed or attempted).”  The report goes on to discuss the challenges of defining whether the assault in fact didn’t happen or whether investigators or prosecutors decide that it did not happen based “simply on their own views of the victim, the suspect, and their credibility.” Individuals who are falsely accused of rape outside of the justice system would not be counted in this figure.

Despite these admitted flaws, here’s what’s not disputable:

  • Rape and sexual violence continue to impact men, women, and children across the country and around the world.
  • Fewer than 100% of rapes are reported to the police because social, emotional, and legal barriers still exist.
  • Sexual violence has an enormous emotional and financial cost to our society, and many bystanders don’t even know they are being affected by it when in reality, they are.
  • Individuals, foundations, employers, and the government do not invest deeply enough in awareness, prevention, intervention and recovery.
  • Our justice system isn’t perfect.  Sometimes innocent people are charged.  And sometime guilty people go free.  That doesn’t mean that men and women aren’t being raped and sexually assaulted.  It means there are improvements that can be made all around.

Finally, there is something that this graphic does NOT represent.  And that is the impact of false accusation on an individual’s life.  The purpose of the graphic was to put the FEAR of false accusation in perspective, not to discount the very real impact that a false report or false accusation has on someone’s life.

We certainly plan future infographics and have learned from this overwhelming and humbling response that visualizing these issues can be quite powerful, and careful sourcing and stating assumptions up front is also important.  Our primary goal – and that of The Enliven Project as a whole – was to start a conversation that desperately needs to be had in our country.  We’ll let others decide whether or not we were successful on this front.  However, in the future, the kind of analysis and background information provided here and below will be made available at the time the infographic is released so that there are no misconceptions about our intent and message.

Breakdown of Graphic and Statistics

1,000 Rapists (technically 1,000 rapes as pointed out by Slate, a distinction we missed in an effort to bring some reality to the numbers.)

Of those 1,000 rapes, we applied a 10% reporting rate (100)

Of those 100 reported rapes, we show 30 faced trial (this includes those that were jailed). This is 30%.  Faced trial, for the purpose of this graphic, uses composite data reflecting the terms prosecution, arrested, and faced trial.

Of the 100 rapes brought to trial, 10 are jailed. This is 10%.  Or, of the 30 rapes prosecuted, 10 are jailed. This is 33.3%.

Of the 100 rapes reported, 2 are false accusations.  The 2% false accusation rate was applied only to the number of reported rapes.

Sarah Beaulieu is the founder of The Enliven Project.




global voices

16 May 2015




Afghan Rapper


Teen Marriage by

Singing About It


Afghan rapper Sonita Alizadeh narrowly escaped a forced marriage at 14 by writing the song “Brides for Sale.” She recently visited West Oakland, California, and was surprised that the US, like Iran and Afghanistan, has poor neighborhoods and homeless people. Credit: Shuka Kalantari. Published with PRI's permission.

Afghan rapper Sonita Alizadeh narrowly escaped a forced marriage at 14 by writing the song “Brides for Sale.” She recently visited West Oakland, California, and was surprised that the US, like Iran and Afghanistan, has poor neighborhoods and homeless people. Credit: Shuka Kalantari. Published with PRI’s permission.

This article and radio report by Shuka Kalantari for The World originally appeared on on May 12, 2015, and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

I met Sonita Alizadeh when she flew into town to perform her first US concert. We were talking a walk when she suddenly stopped and stared at a man playing with his two daughters.

“Here in America a dad sets aside time to take his daughters to the park,” she said. “Where I come from, you don’t see that.”

Sonita comes from Afghanistan. She’s 18-years-old, has long black hair and a small frame. If things had gone according to her parent’s plan, she’d have been married by now. “I sometimes I think about the fact that I could have been a mother right now — with a few kids. It’s not a thought I like.”

Sonita grew up in Tehran, Iran’s capital city. Her family fled Afghanistan when she was 8 years old because of war. She found a non-profit that taught undocumented Afghan kids. There she learned karate, photography, guitar, and she started singing and rapping.

Her music quickly got recognition. Sonita met an Iranian director who helped her polish up her style and make music videos, and that led to a few awards. Everything was perfect. Until it wasn’t. “One day my mom told me, ‘You have to return to Afghanistan with me. There’s a man there who wants to marry you. Your brother’s engaged and we need your dowry money to pay for his wedding.’”

Sonita was devastated. So she wrote the song “Brides for Sale.” The song starts “Let me whisper, so no one hears that I speak of selling girls. My voice shouldn’t be heard since it’s against Sharia. Women must remain silent… this is our tradition.”

The video shows Sonita wearing a wedding dress — with a barcode on her forehead. Her face is bruised. She pleads with her family not sell her off.

Sonita was worried what her parents would think about the video — but they actually loved it — and they also told her that she didn’t have to get married.

“It means so much to me that my family went against our tradition for me. Now I’m somewhere that I never imagined I could be.”

The attention around Sonita’s music landed her a full SCHOLARSHIP to an arts academy in Utah, and that led to the concert here in the San Francisco Bay Area. But before the show, Sonita needs to rehearse. We hop into my car and drive to nearby West Oakland.

Sonita was shocked by this neighborhood in West Oakland. “Are you telling me in America there are places where you can’t walk alone at night?” she asked. Credit: Shuka Kalantari. Published with PRI's permission

Sonita was shocked by this neighborhood in West Oakland. “Are you telling me in America there are places where you can’t walk alone at night?” she asked. Credit: Shuka Kalantari. Published with PRI’s permission

The rehearsal studio is in a neighborhood covered in graffiti. Both sides of the street are lined with homeless people. Sonita is shocked — because it reminds her of home.

“I grew up in a neighborhood where everybody was poor and the houses were run-down,” Sonita says. “I couldn’t go outside at night because it was really dangerous. Are you telling me in America there are places where you can’t walk alone at night, too? Then where else can a person find refuge?”

Not long after the concert, Sonita read about a woman named Farkhondeh who was stoned and beaten to death in Afghanistan for allegedly burning a Koran. Sonita was heartbroken. So she did what she knew best: wrote a song about it.

“Rap music lets you tell your story to other people. Rap music is a platform to share the words that are in my heart.”

And sometimes rap music is a way to express a sadness, an anger, that Afghan women are told they’re not supposed to show. Even though Sonita now lives over 7,000 miles away from home, she says she’ll always sing about what’s closest to her heart: The people of Afghanistan.