Helly Luv was born Helan Abdulla in Urmia, Kurdish Iran, in 1988. Her family moved to Finland, where the young Helan won a scholarship to the best dance school in Finland and won a contract with NIKE Women. At the age of 18, she moved to America to pursue a music career, and at the end of 2013, she released her breakthrough hit "Risk It All."
She received death threats for the controvertial music video but remained defiant, releasing "Revolution" in 2015.
Helan also runs an animal charity called Luv House, to protect animals in Kurdistan.
She graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project Research Fellow Elliot Friedland about her life, her music and her passion for Kurdistan and the battle against the Islamic State.
Clarion Project: Since you were born in 1988, the Middle East has been mired in conflict. How has being connected to this near-constant violence affected you personally?
Helly Luv: Well the first thing that effected me was that my family had to escaped from our home, from our land and start a new life in a unknown country. Growing up in Europe, I always knew and felt that I was different from other kids, and that I was a immigrant and home was somewhere else.
Clarion Project: In the video for your hit single "Risk It All," you say, “This video was inspired by my strong, beautiful Kurdish people who never stop fighting for our country and independence.”
How do you see your part in the struggle for an independent Kurdistan? What does that dream look like to you?
Luv: All us Kurds, we share the same dream of a free, independent Kurdistan. We are the largest nation without our own country, and I feel like it's my duty as a artist to fight for it.
Maybe my weapon won't be the gun, but I have a voice and I can send the message to other millions of people who don't know the struggle of the Kurdish people.
Watch "Risk it All":
Clarion: How to you maintain your connection to Kurdistan while living in America? What do you love most about Kurdish culture?
Luv: I travel a lot because of my work, but I try to visit Kurdistan often. What I love about Kurdistan most is the hospitality. You can find even the poorest person in Kurdistan, but he will offer you his last meal.
Clarion: Let’s talk about your latest song "Revolution." What inspired you to make it?
Luv: When this war first happened with ISIS, I wanted to fight and protect Kurdistan. I also wanted the whole world to know what was going on in Kurdistan.
I could have shot this music video in Hollywood, Los Angeles, where I live, but I wanted to show the true face of the war, so I had no other options then to go to the war area and shoot everything there.
We were about three km away from the ISIS militants and all the people escaping in the video are real victims of ISIS. The tanks and weapons are all real and, of course, the Peshmargas are real soldiers.
The video is very violent,but it's the truth. It's the real story of Kurdistan fighting against ISIS.
Clarion: Did you get to meet and speak with any Peshmerga fighters while you were filming "Revolution" in Iraq? What was the morale of the people like there?
Luv: What touched me was seeing these ordinary people, male and females, simply just walking past us carrying their weapons and going to the last outpost and fight against ISIS, without any kind of military training or even good weapons.
They were there night and day, through rain, cold, heat and many of them didn't return. Seeing that broke my heart to pieces every time.
Many times we had to cancel and leave the filming locations because the war started to take over and the bullets were flying too close to us.
Even in the war zone, the Peshmargas kept their strong positive energy. Talking to them made us feel safe because they were so confident. The only thing they would complain about was wanting more powerful weapons.
Clarion: You have received death threats from Islamist groups for perceived infractions of modesty. How do you deal with that? What message do you have for those trying to silence you?
Luv: Yes it is also true, I have been on their "most-wanted" list, but I believe anyone would be listed there wanting for freedom, peace and justice.
The death threats come mostly from social media, but I don't listen to them. I want this war to stop, and I want peace for my country. If I can get the message out to other millions of people who probably don't know what is going on here, especially the young generations, I accept putting my life at risk for my country and people.
To me it is an honor and privilege, because it means I am as powerful as their weapons.
My message to them is very clear, they can just look at the video 🙂
Clarion: How can people from around the world best support the Kurdish struggle?
Luv: The most important think is to not close your eyes to these events and think that its not affecting you because you're not living in that country. As long as there are wars and terrorist groups like ISIS, we are all in danger.
Kurdistan has 1.8 million refugees at the moment, and there are donations you can make to organizations, or you can start your own donations.
Social media has huge power, you can send one message to whole world through one click. Some people think sharing subjects like this on social media doesn't have a power, but it does more then you think.
Clarion: Lastly, what is it about music and dance that you feel has such a positive power it can change the world?
Luv: Music and dance has power, and through music the world can hear the voice of millions of other people. If music goes against evil, it might not be as loud as a weapon, but music will live forever.
Music can change the world, because it can change people.