Bang and bling for Kurdish pop star’s anti-ISIL anthem

In her new English-language song, Revolution, Helly Luv says she calls for Kurdistan and the countris of the world to unite to fight terrorism and injustice.

Iraqi Kurdish singer Helly Luv poses for a picture in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on June 9, 2015. Safin Hamed/AFP Photo
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Erbil, Iraq // High heels, fatigues and gold rifle-shaped rings – singer Helly Luv’s blend of bang and bling has made her the most popular cheerleader for the Iraqi Kurds’ war against ISIL.

She visits peshmerga forces fighting the extremist group, which overran a third of Iraq last year, and says she filmed her latest music video in Al Khazr, not far from the militants’ lines.

“I want to give something to the peshmerga because I consider myself one of them,” says Luv, 26.

“I wore peshmerga clothes in the song to support them.”

The video, for a song titled Revolution, opens with a peshmerga fighter looking at a picture of himself with a young boy, presumably his son, as shelling and gunfire are heard in the background.

He tucks the photo inside his helmet and goes to fight.

The video then moves to a quiet village where children play and people sit drinking tea, but it soon comes under fire from black-clad militants driving armoured vehicles, including a tank.

A child screams and residents flee, but Helly Luv – wearing golden high heels with a white and red scarf covering her face – strides the other way to dramatic music, unfurling a banner before the tank that reads “Stop the violence”.

She sings and dances next to a car with “end war” spray painted on its side, but footage that includes peshmerga forces counterattacking and lyrics such as “We gon’ keep on fighting” make clear she means the violence will stop once ISIL is defeated.

The video and English lyrics are over the top and sometimes cringe-worthy, but also apparently popular, garnering 700,000 views on YouTube barely two weeks after its release.

“The song is called ‘Revolution’ and I call in it for Kurdistan and the countries of the world to unite to fight terrorism and injustice,” Helly Luv says.

“I want to show the world who the peshmerga forces are, and who Daesh is,” she says, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL that the group deems derogatory.

According to Nawzad Saleh, a peshmerga officer, in the days when they were mountain-based rebel fighters, singers sang songs encouraging them to fight.

“Now the Kurdish singers have begun singing for the peshmerga in other languages, and this is a beautiful step and will result in the world knowing more about who the peshmerga are,” he says.

Peshmerga fighter Abdulrahman Ahmed agrees, saying such songs will encourage “the international community to sympathise and cooperate with us more, and support us with weapons to continue fighting these terrorists and eliminate them once and for all”.

According to her online biography, Helly Luv was born Helan Abdulla in Iran in 1988 and her grandfather fought for the peshmerga.

Her family fled Saddam Hussein’s rule and she grew up mainly in Finland before flying to Los Angeles when she turned 18 to pursue a career in music.

With plenty of hip-swinging and hair-swishing, the rock-chick style of the “Kurdish Shakira” is in stark contrast with the sombre and pious nasheeds – songs without musical accompaniment – that have blossomed on social media over the past year, both for and against ISIL.

When the extremists took over swathes of Iraq in June last year and subsequently attacked the peshmerga, many in the West held up the Kurds as the moral and military flagship of the world’s fightback against ISIL.

Of filming in Al Khazr, Helly Luv says: “There were some who warned me against going there, but I insisted that filming be in real places affected by Daesh terrorism.”

* Agence France-Presse