By Claire Zillman
August 21, 2017

August 19 is celebrated as Independence Day in Afghanistan—it marks the nation breaking free from Britain nearly a century ago—but this year’s government commemoration was eclipsed by, of all things, a concert put on by pop star Aryana Saeed.

The controversial singer, known for her form-fitting clothing and fierce feminist lyrics, decided to perform on Independence eve to highlight that—as she sees it—Afghan women are still not free even 98 years after the nation’s liberation.

When news of the concert broke, Afghanistan’s mullahs denounced the performance and authorities canceled it at its original location. Saeed irks the nation’s religious officials, who see her clothing and refusal to wear a headscarf as an affront to Afghan culture. She lives in London for her own protection, but security risks haven’t dulled her message. She sings in one song:

Who says I am the mother of this world?
I am nothing, but a burden on the son’s shoulders,
I am a slave because I am a wife,
I am a headache when I am a sister,
This is who I am.
I am the daughter of the Afghan land.

“The mullahs are the enemy of the Afghan people, the enemy of happiness,” Saeed said after the initial cancellation. “I’ll perform in the street if I have to.”

And perform she did, at another location, despite receiving threats of an attack on the venue.

One female concert-goer who attended told the New York Times that she’d gone to make a statement.

“Many women say that they fight for their rights, but after a time they get tired and stop,” she said. “Aryana Saeed never gets tired. She came here to show the mullahs that we women aren’t afraid of them anymore.”

—@clairezillman

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