A bunch of weak men, terrified by one strong, free woman. The beyond-gorgeous Kurdish Pop Diva gracing this month’s cover of Vendôme Magazïne uses the undeniable power of music to fight terrorism, destruction and hopelessness and bring strenght, energy, courage and fire to the souls of those suffering under the threaten of the Islamic State (ISIS).
Helly Luv is the most wanted woman by the ISIS. But she ain’t scared. She belongs to a family and ethnicity of brave soldiers, the Kurds. Born in Iran in the middle of the Gulf War, she has spent her entire life fighting to overcome every single obstacle that life has thrown her way, becoming, at the young age of 28 years old, an icon, a role model and the light of hope for many.
Her two hits “Risk it all” and “Revolution” went viral and made it to the top charts. Suddenly she was in the news worldwide as people admired her and felt inspired by her powerful lyrics and two music videos where she shows the brave kurdish Pershmerga Soldiers fighting with their lives for their people against islamic terrorists, and herself dancing in a military uniform. Her video “Revolution” was filmed only 2.5 KM away from the ISIS, even though she had been receiving death threatens since her debut with “Risk it all” for wearing what radicals qualify as “innappropiate clothes” (a gorgeous short dress), dancing among the Peshmerga and… lions.
But it takes more than the worst terrorist group this Earth has ever faced to scare Helly Luv away. Her life has been a battle and she’s ready to keep on fighting:
“I was born in the middle of war. I was actually born at the same time Sadam Hussein was bombing the Kurds, and my mom had to just give birth to me in the middle of the war. Basically, right after I was born I was wrapped around blankets and my mum was put on a horse, and she had to travel all the way to Turkey; she was actually smuggled by four different men, pretending that she was their wife. So I don’t have any memories from this because I was a baby, but the stories and the memories that my parents told me are obviously the things I know about that time.
We escaped from war with thousands of other Kurds and stayed in Ankara for about three months as a homeless refugee, waiting to get accepted in camps, and during that time it was hard because you have to think there are hundreds of thousands of kurds trying to come at once, everybody is trying to get shelter, so this was the period of time that we had to just figure out a way to get food and shelter for us because there were so many of us. There was a crisis going on, exactly what is going on right now.”
“It took us 9 months to get accepted in Finland and it was the first time my parents travelled with a plane or anywhere outside Iran and Iraq or Turkey. My parents always tell me that they didn’t know where Finland was, and they were just so happy that we were going somewhere safe.”
“Growing up in Finland was obviously very different because in my school I was the only foreigner, with dark hair and dark eyes, everybody else was blue-eyed and blond; so growing up was a little bit difficult for me because I was so different from everybody else, and for that I got bullied a lot. But this also gave me very thick skin, and it made me stronger. I believe as of today I’m stronger because I was bullied. But I’d like to say that Finland was also a very good place to grow because we were supported in every kind of way, giving us a home, food, the clothes and toys we got from Church. I had everything! It was different because our culture and background were very different but I’m very thankful to Finland.”
I moved to LA when I was 18 to follow my dream of becoming an artist. It was very difficult because I was alone and didn’t know anyone. I just went there to find my dream and obviously it was horrible, a nightmare. I had so many difficulties. It was very tough for me but I’m so happy that I survived. I had a really big Angel looking after me.
“My break-through was definitely when I came to Kurdistan to film my very first video “Risk it all”. This was the time before ISIS existed and Kurdistan was very close to independency, and I just wanted to create a video that celebrated the freedom from that bloody history that we always had, from the war. Risk it all is about is about risking everything for a dream and for us Kurds is to have an independent country. Kurdistan’s culture is very different from western countries, women are more careful with what they wear, what they say…. I was wearing the Peshmerga uniform (Freedom Fighter Outfit), and I was dancing in a short dress with lions; these things were a breaking point for radical Islamic groups, and after 24 hours it was right away in the news, especially in the Middle East, and then it spread to Europe and all of a sudden.”
I had death threats from Islamic groups (this was before ISIS), saying that as a woman I should not wear this. I basically broke the rules. This is what really sparked my career. Nobody in the Middle East had seen a video like this before, where a woman danced in a short dress fighting for women’s rights. Just because I was a woman giving my opinion so strongly.
“I also got positive messages, of course! That’s the whole reason why I could survive. During that time, there was a lot of love and hate coming from both sides and people were fighting each other, like “Kurdistan finally was a woman who’s brave to do this”, and then the other ones saying “No, she’s here to spread Illuminati and evil and she’s here to destroy Islam and the Kurdish culture”… People even accused me of being an agent from the USA or Israel. Definitely the people who supported me are the reason why I survived, because during that it felt like the whole world was attacking me and I was just sitting there wondering “what did I do wrong?” I wanted to do something amazing and positive and here I am being attacked by radical Islamic groups, my family and I are getting death threats, and for three months I had to basically hide because it was getting really serious. Even my own far away relatives were after me. So during that time I was also very depressed, I didn’t leave my hotel room for three months, I was in a very dark place in my life.”
“Risk it all went so viral and international. But what kept me alive, what kept me thinking “I can do this, I can fight back” was the fans! Because they are the ones who supported me and sent me hundreds of thousands of messages everyday saying “We got you” “We support you”. I owe everything to them! They keep me going.”
My parents are my rock. My dad was the one who took me to ballet, dance and piano lessons, and I would dance around the house with my mom (the traditional Kurdish dance). I grew up between two cultures and that comes up in my music. It has inspiration from the Middle East but also very mixed with western culture.
“I have two song writers, Micky and Kyle, who are amazing. They write for Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna… we sit down together, I tell the story, I bring up ideas and together we make it happen.”
Creating “Revolution” was the hardest thing I have ever done because I was in Kurdistan when ISIS attacked Kurds, we were 1 hour away from ISIS. It was a very scary situation because we didn’t know what ISIS was, we asked ourselves “who are these monsters who are coming here and killing innocent people?” it was a very scary situation. You couldn’t even fly out from there. And there were the Peshmergas going to the border to fight.
“Our history (Kurdish) has so much war that I believe deep inside we all have that in us, all this fear becomes strength. That’s how I felt. There are hundreds of people in the Peshmergas who aren’t trained soldiers, they’re normal people. They’re fathers, sales-men, brothers… they take the guns and go and protect their land because there’s nobody else to protect it. You see mothers breast-feeding their child who go to the battle field; grandparents… everyone!”
Something is united with Kurds. In Kurdish culture and history there are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Yazidis… we always had respect for all religions. So when this happened we all came together to fight it.
“Right after that, obviously I wanted to help emergency help to the Yazidi and Kobani victims, with 150 tons of supplies. We tried to help as much as possible because honestly other countries didn’t help us much. All of a sudden you have half a million refugees, then 1.2, 1.5… and still we don’t have enough weapons. We don’t have modern weapons like ISIS has. We have 2 million refugees at the moment and we are still not a country so it’s very hard support them and to fight the worst terrorist group in the whole history; so this became a huge frustration for me, so I felt like I had to do something as an artist, whatever it could be. I thought I could share the story with millions of people because back then the media wasn’t talking about it. My friends in America didn’t know what was going on. Terrorists were attacking our people and my friends were clubbing in LA. They had no idea! That was hurtful so I felt like I had to do something. I had an audience in my social media so I thought I could tell the story about Kurds, the Peshmergas and what’s going on right now.”
I took all the stories and all that I had seen, went back to LA and basically poured my heart and my soul into the song “Revolution”. I think that because all the words that I say come from my heart the video went viral. I told the real story about ISIS and how we have to unite and fight together, because ISIS isn’t just our enemy; it’s the enemy of everyone. We are having all these attacks around the world because we haven’t controlled ISIS.
“We filmed “Revolution” in a villa only 2.5 km away from ISIS. It took us about 3 months to finish the video because sometimes we would go to the scene and have the whole team ready, the camera ready, I was ready and then BOOM!, ISIS started to attack and I thought “Oh my God, this is not happening”. We had to cancel everything and leave. I don’t even know if it was fear, because it was so unreal to be there and actually witness the war, the fight that sometimes it felt like a movie.”
The saddest part was that I would see the Peshmergas passing by in trucks full of them going to the battle field and you never knew if they would come back. The strength in their eyes, the energy, the courage made us feel protected, I was so sure that nothing would happen to us even though it was not real. Isis weren’t far and they had tanks.
“The point is that they didn’t know exactly where we were, but for the video we had to create smoke by burning tire and it was very dangerous; because ISIS would know that something is going on and aim at it. We had a lot of families and children with us who were the real refugees, the victims. I still keep looking back thinking how did we do it? I will never forget this experience.”
I have mixed feelings about being ISIS most wanted woman. Obviously it means that I’ve done something right, to piss them off. My point was to make sure the story was told and I know that I’ve getting death threats and I’m in their most wanted list, but it doesn’t make me feel fear. I don’t understand why people keep asking me “how are you not scared? It’s not normal” , but I think I’ve done so much good and my message has reached millions of people and driven so much media attention, that it’s worth it. I see the Peshmergas fighting every day, sacrificing their lives for my country; so if I can do the smallest bit to share the story… because I’m not as brave as they are. I give them all the credit! If I’ve brought the story of Kurds and Peshmergas to the world, then I’ve done my job, and I’m proud.
“I feel like in this life you have to die for something. I guess this was my purpose in life and I’m very proud.
I’ve shot three movies already and had the leading role in all of them. I love acting so much. My latest movie is called “Peshmerga” and is directed by French-Jewish director Bernard Henry Levy. It was premiered in Cannes Film Festival this year and it was a huge honor for me and Kurds to be there. It was part of history and I’m very proud! I was also the first Kurd to attend the Cannes Film Festival.”
“I’m always “Kurdish Beyonce”, “Kurdish Shakira”, “Kurdish Rihanna”… (laughs). It’s a huge compliment, because you’re comparing me to the biggest pop-artists in history that I look up to; but it does sometimes bother me because I didn’t become an artist in one night, this is something I worked hard for, all my life. As a refugee going to Finland, coming from a poor family, and having my parents and myself collect all our money to put me in dance school, and working as a waitress to buy my ticket to America, following my dream going through all the obstacles… thousands of dance lessons, music lessons, acting lessons….”
It’s sometimes hard that people put me in a little box and say “you’re just like that person”. I think there can only be one Madonna, one Rihanna, one Helly and one you, because we are all different, equal and special. I’d like people to remember me as just Helly.
“I’m a huge fan of fashion and beauty; everything goes hand on hand for me, my music, my art and fashion. I’ve always been attracted by jewelry; I think it comes from my poor background. My mom always said that the ones who have gold and shiny things could always “buy themselves freedom to another country”, but because we were poor we couldn’t do that. I wanted to tell the story that you’re not wearing any jewelry: there’s a story, there’s a dream, it can also be a weapon, a message. I wanted to make sure that I would include some unisex pieces for guys. The part I’m the proudest of is that a percentage of the sales is going to the refugees!
I’m most thankful for God, I’m so blessed, and for my fans of course but mostly for my parents. If they weren’t so open minded and supported me I wouldn’t be here. You have to remember that I come from the Middle East, from an Islamic country. Growing up, my Kurdish friends didn’t have the freedom I had to go to music and dance lessons. I did because my parents wanted me to have the choice. They’re the reason why I’m here.
The accomplishment I’m the proudest of is that I’m one person, one human, with one message, with one music; I have shared the voices of millions of people whose voices have been shut down. I can tell their story and share it.
“I want to make amazing music that gives people strength, share my story and maybe inspire other people. I want to do more films, I want to tour, meet my wonderful fans, kiss and hug them! and thank them for everything they’ve done for me. I’d like to get involved in fashion too, because I think I have my very own style.”
“My purpose is to help as much as I can. I feel like when I go to a refugee camp and do a project, when I go to an animal shelter or help the Peshmergas I actually feel like I’m living and doing something that has a bigger meaning. It’s very easy to live for yourself but living for others… that’s hard. I think if we can do just a little bit for others this world could be a little bit better.”
My advice to everyone escaping war or living in the middle of it is I know it’s very difficult, because I’m here and I see it, but you just have to have strength and fight back, no matter what. You just cannot give up, whatever you’re going through. You have to turn that anger and frustration and stress into your weapon. Turn it into something positive.
When radical Islamic groups attacked me and I was so depressed I thought I should just end my life. But now I don’t even understand how I could think something so crazy. But this is how much pressure society can put on you, and if you let that affect you it can hurt you a lot and you can harm yourself. I was there, and I saw it (war), and I wanted to end my life. But somewhere there was a little light, a little hope that kept my fire burning and I said “listen, I’m not gonna go this way, I’m not going to give up, I’m going to turn all this anger and frustration and fear into my strength and fight against it.” And that’s how I survived it all.
A (very shiny) star is born, and she’s already lighting up the way for millions.
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