Time doesn’t stand still for Silvana Imam. It’s closing in on three years since the release of her last album, 2016’s Naturkraft, but having been featured in an exhibition (Nonsense Warrior at Scenkonstmuseet in 2017), a book (Third Culture Kids by Ra Hidaya Modig) and had a documentary made about her (Mika Gustafson, Olivia Kastebring and Christina Tsiobanelis’ Silvana – väck mig när ni vaknat), it feels like one of Sweden’s most prominent rap artists has never been away. Now however, she’s coming back on her creative home turf, with a new album, Helig Moder, out in February. We met her to talk about it.
So if we look at your career so far, from 2013 to 2016 you had an album or an EP out every year. From 2016 to 2019, you’ve put out some singles and stuff but no longer release. And in that time you’ve had the film and the book and all these other projects. So with that pause, and the film and book in between, does this kind of feel like the start of a new era in your career?
Yeah, it does. Maybe a new era, but not a new me. With the film and book and all, the film won a Guldbagge, so people now know a part of my career story in depth. So it is different [from now on], in a way. I think for other people it’s different, but for me it’s the same.
So now, you’ve broken away from RMH/Trans 94, and you’ve gone fully independent, what was the motivation for that?
Well, I started a new company, a new record label and I decided to go independent. I chose to go independent.
You’ve always been quite independent and in control of your career anyway, but how does it feel to go 100% now?
So good. I mean, what we did was incredible and I had such a good time. Career-wise, it was the best thing for me to do that. But you realise that ‘ok, I can do some things better on my own’. And I’m not even on my own, I have people I work with, I have partners, collaborators, I still have the same team, I just don’t have that person [other CEO]. Not much has changed, it’s just that I’m now my own CEO, in charge of all these companies.
Does that kind of switch to being 100% independent as you yourself, as your own person now, kind of also play into the idea that this is a new phase for your career?
Yeah, you can say that. It is a new phase.
What have you found as both the challenges and rewards of taking this step, and starting your own label and management and so on?
Up to now, there have only been rewards. I’m collaborating with really good people. I was doing quite a lot anyway, so it’s not that much of a difference. It’s just now I’m super-independent. Now I’m my own boss, I have an assistant, I have this person, I have people around me.
To start off on the album itself. So it’s called Helig Moder, and that’s a reference to yourself and your own position in the Swedish music scene, and the Swedish rap scene especially. So what attracted to that figure and character, of the Helig Moder [Holy Mother], the kind of classical mother goddess figure, and the juxtaposition within that figure of respect and worship, but also pressure?
Because I feel I have a platform, a really huge platform, and I need to take care of it, and it’s a really big responsibility. And I’m really up for doing that. Three years ago, I wouldn’t say that I crashed, but I worked a bit too much, so I cancelled some shows, and I couldn’t handle the pressure, it felt like a bit too much. But now, I don’t even see it as pressure anymore, I see it as part of my life. Being this, I don’t know if you would call it a role model, I don’t activity think about it that way. But I do what I do, and if you like it you like it. If it resonates with you, it resonates with you. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, I kind of don’t care. I just focus on myself, and I what I need to do to get my message out, to make me feel good. And if I make myself feel good, then I can make people feel good. It’s always like that, if you love yourself you can love others.
So you’ve stopped thinking about it as something with pressure and responsibility?
Yes, exactly. Because those words have a negative thing within them. And I don’t feel that this is a negative thing. I’ve actually never felt it’s a negative thing, like ‘oh I don’t want to do this’. I just felt the pressure before, and I felt that I couldn’t handle it. But it’s different now, I can handle it. It’s a part of me, I am a story-teller, I am this person, I want to save people, I want to make people feel good. And to do that, I can’t think about people all the time, I have to think about what I want to do.
So you would say that from your point of view, you have to think of doing the right thing, and the thing that you think is good, rather than worrying about people having their eyes on you and about what they think?
Yeah. Because when you are this public figure, you can’t think about it, because that will drive you crazy. If you think about what people will think of a song, it won’t be natural, the way you make music or create other stuff. You have to focus on what makes you feel good and what you want to communicate. There was a time where I actually thought about ‘ok, what song should I do to please this crowd?’. And that was what made me not feel good about what I did. And so I don’t think that way anymore.
When did you start to think about your role and associate it with, first of all this title, Helig Moder, which has a lot of associations in history and culture and myth. When did you start to think about it under that name?
This is my core. I believe we are all gods. I’m not a religious person, in that sense. But I believe we are all gods of our own destiny, we are all limitless creators, we created this earth. And this is what I want people to feel, that they are empowered and in control, because I’ve also felt helpless, like when growing up, ‘un-powered’. So I want to give the power to the people. I’m not talking about political power here, but more your actions, and the way you treat other people, everything is in you. The planet consists of 80-95% water, the body consists of the exact same amount. We are the universe, we all have it in us. So this is my core, these ‘laws of nature’ as I call them, this is my core. So it’s always been very close to me. Yes, I’m talking about myself to an extent, Helig Moder is my album title, but I’m also talking about Mother Earth, it has a bigger meaning.
There’s other ideas and meanings, rather than it just being about you as a person?
Yeah, it’s not about me, it’s about the power of words, wisdom, people.
I get what you’re saying. So you shouldn’t read Helig Moder as just referring to you, it’s not a stand-in for you personally. If we move on to some of the things you’ve said about the record so far, you said ‘I just wanted to make an album that one could put on and be swept away in. Just lulled into happiness, sorrow and the light’. So are you going for a more escapist vibe on this record, an album that can help people escape the hardship of their everyday lives? A little bit detached from the everyday grind?
Actually, I’m more attached to that grind more than ever, because I am my own CEO and I’m doing these meetings, contracts and deals all the time. I think it’s more about when I wrote Jag Ser Ljuset. It’s the saddest song I’ve ever written, but that song, when I put it on, makes me so happy and relaxed, and relieved. Because to live is to feel pressure.
You also said ‘we all struggle. We struggle so hard every day’.
Yeah! We really do, everyone. No matter where you’re from. That’s what I wanted to say with that song, I’m also struggling. And if I’m struggling, you’re struggling. And that it’s a beautiful thing to cry, and to talk about those dark emotions, Because I’ve kind of been afraid of talking about them. But now when I am talking about them, I feel better.
So it’s about helping people get through their everyday shit?
Yeah, and that there is a light, that is life. Just follow the light. Again, not in a religious sense. It’s the light within you, we all have this super strong light. I believe all human beings have it. But depending on where you come from, or where you’re raised in society, you will act differently.
Like flowers needing water and light or whatever. So let’s go through a few quotes from the album now. First track Para Dis, you go ‘Jag behöver inga nya vänner, och inga gamla falska heller’. Then we go to Helig Moder, and it’s ’Vill du va Silvana…Jag vet inte längre’ and ‘Vissa välja sitta och jag står’ and ’Gav mig superhjälterollen, hade inget val’. There’s those opening songs on the album, that sound like you taking on the world a bit in rap superhero mode, firing out these lines. But there’s also a lot of playing about with this character ‘Silvana’, and this feeds into a question we spoke about earlier. It kind of sounds on those opening lines that you’re sick of being a symbol for others ideas, and that this character has been a tool for other people, and here you’re trying to reclaim it, bring it back for yourself.
The first thing you said about the character, I’m talking about the character, the way people view her. It’s not about me reclaiming that character, it’s just that I’m talking about that character. So like you [other people] gave me that role, and you wanted all the answers, so I gave you a fucking film, I gave you a movie, I gave you a book.
There isn’t an attempt to shorten the distance between the character and the actual person?
I mean, of course there is. But what you see in the movie is a part of me, you don’t see the whole story. You will never see the whole story, because I am actually a very private person. I give you, mostly, what I want you to see. To a certain extent, because I’m also a very emotional person, so if I feel something is wrong I tend to flip and say it’s wrong. I thought that I was a controlled person, but I’m really not. But with the movie, I didn’t direct it, so that’s their story of me. There are twenty-five other people who have their own story about me. I think it’s interesting to play with a character, especially when it’s so near yourself. You can get lost in it. It’s really weird to be a public figure like this, and to become a person everybody has an opinion or idea about. Because every person that approaches me feels a connection to me, and that can disconnect you from people. It’s like ‘so what do you think about me?’. I understand that they see it that way, through my words, music and political beliefs, this is what they connect to. But then there is a person that they don’t see. And it’s good that they don’t see that, because then I would be opened up for everyone. And I’m just not like that.
If we go back to the idea of the character, and I remember you saying earlier on when you were talking about your role as a public presence, it was about doing what you think is good and right yourself, and not caring about what other people’s opinions of you are, and not being motivated by that. It sounds like you’re doing that on those opening tracks.
Exactly. I’m always planning the next move, always. The album is finished and so I’m already doing something else now. You cannot let what people think of you [affect you], whether it’s victories or whatever. I’ve won all the prizes you can win, but I’m not going to be so affected when people say congratulations, apart from saying thank you. Because then, when you don’t win, when they don’t like a song, you’ll be heartbroken. So I’m not overly excited when I win, and I’m not sad when people say a song is bad. I was almost going to say ‘when I don’t win’ there, but of course I’ve never lost [laughs].
You mean it’s all external opinions. Regardless of whether they’re positive or negative, you shouldn’t pay attention to them?
Yeah, and that’s advice I give to everyone, not just artists or whatever. Don’t dwell on feedback, whether negative or positive, because then you will get lost. Don’t do that, be stable. I think that’s hard for a lot of people, because we live in this fucking crazy social media world. So please don’t get caught up in that sauce, because I’ve seen people do desperate things…it’s just not good.
I think you mention that in a later song, with a line about journalists hating you one day and loving you the next, it also touches on that.
Yeah, if we talk about journalists. Of course journalists are going to have opinions about me and write bad shit and good shit. Of course. I’m a public figure. I see other people get upset, y’know ‘that person wrote this about me’, or ‘this podcast’. In American they have all these, The Breakfast Club, they just talk and talk and talk, and artists get like ‘you spoke about me like this?’ Chill out man, it’s not personal! You rap, people are going to have opinions, chill the fuck out.
In one sense it’s not personal at all, because critics will say things just to get attention. So it’s super not personal in that sense, you’re just the person who has to get dissed that day for the podcast to get headlines or whatever.
There’s a trend on this record I think, if you compare it to Naturkraft. It’s a little bit less aggressive and not as hard as that album is. It’s not trying to be the musical sound of a storm as much. And that’s especially clear on songs like Magi Som Orlando.
My favourite song. With songs like Magi Som Orlando and Jag Ser Ljuset, we tried to create a new world for me. I’m still a very political person, a political rapper, even though I got a bit tired of people saying that, because that’s all they said. But I am that. But I’m also more. And on this album we want to give you that. Something that is also me. I’m political, but I’m also emotional, and everything in between.
It does feel like a more personal record, especially with that run of relationship songs from Magi Som Orlando down to Stanna Tiden, there’s four songs in a row that are like relationship songs. It’s seemed more personal. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, I do agree. On Naturkraft, I was telling you my story, like on the first song, Hon Va. Part of my life story, and that’s personal. But now I get more into the emotional side of it, of me, what I feel. Which I didn’t do on Naturkraft, because I didn’t feel I wanted to. Now I feel I wanted to, on this album.
One of those tracks, Ha Tålamod, features 070 Shake, I was wondering how she came to be involved in the album?
Dani and I met when she had a show at Way Out West, the same day my movie had a small sneak preview. We met and talked and hung out. She came back to Gothenburg to have a show, and the day after I flew out to the studio and we recorded her vocals.
Finally, the album ends with Jag Ser Ljuset, which you’ve said was ‘simultaneously the happiest and saddest song you’ve ever written’, so did that range of feeling in the song make it a suitable one to end the album on?
Well, it’s more that I wanted to end the album with The Light. We’re all in this shit together, in this world that is good and bad and everything. We’re in this together, and there’s something within you that can conquer everything. Well, almost everything, if it’s not police brutality or whatever.
That needs a more collective response?
Yes. But within you, you have this great power, and that’s what I wanted to convey to people.
Helig Moder is out now.
Main Photo: Kimberly Ihre