New Zealand’s CHAII Brings Persian Flair to Hip-Hop

Soon after migrating to New Zealand at age eight, the Iranian artist CHAII heard Eminem and felt “instantly hooked.” Three years later she was making music herself. Fast-forward to today, and her swaggering, pop-friendly hybrid of Western hip-hop and Persian musical touchstones is making a massive splash, leading her to being included in Spotify’s global emerging artist program, RADAR.

The program features artists from over 50 markets worldwide and helps performers at early stages of their careers broaden their fan bases. Awareness of the artists is built through Spotify’s social channels, RADAR playlists curated by Spotify’s editors, and bespoke marketing initiatives.

Originally from Ahwaz, Iran, CHAII paid tribute to the region with her debut single, 2019’s “South.” The song incorporates sounds from southern Iran, which is home to a deeply rhythmic style of traditional dance music called Bandari. This style of music combines Persian instruments like the tombak and daf with Afro-Cuban instruments like conga and talking drums. 

“It’s very inspiring, especially the drums and percussion in the 6/8 time signature,” CHAII tells For the Record. “Persians love dancing, and 6/8 gets you moving no matter where you are in the world.” She also credits modern classics from Persian artists like Googoosh and Siavash Ghomayshi for reminding her of her native country’s musical offerings during her rap-heavy teen years. 

Those mingling global influences inform her own music today: her breakthrough track “Digebasse” sees her rapping in both English and Farsi alongside an equally international guest in B Wise, an Australian rapper with Nigerian heritage.

“Rapping in Farsi came naturally for me,” she says. “It also helped me practice my native tongue. Incorporating traditional Persian music into the hip-hop world [has been] a very long but fun process. I’m still experimenting with it and feel I’ve only just scratched the surface.”

Her punchy, continent-jumping sound recalls the similarly worldly hip-hop of artists like M.I.A. and Tkay Maidza, especially on her new single “Lightswitch.” Produced by Frank Eliesa of the genre-bending New Zealand ensemble Yoko-Zuna, the song packs CHAII’s nonchalant lyrical takedown into a brisk three minutes of catchy hip-hop.

“‘Lightswitch’ reflects on my journey in music so far, working hard to get to every stage,” says CHAII. “Coming to the conclusion that you can’t please everyone and have to own what you do. To live with no regrets and be bold.” She also connects the song to some of the Iranian artists now based in Los Angeles who similarly have brought their country’s music to wider audiences. Like so many artists at the moment, CHAII watched her year’s plans dissipate somewhat in the wake of the pandemic. She was slated to make her debut at SXSW this year, for example, before the festival was cancelled due to COVID-19. Yet she remains upbeat, using this time to reflect and work ahead.

“I’m used to having to adapt to change, especially from being in the music industry,” she says. “Even though it’s a crazy time, I see it as a time to refocus and write more music. [And] to make a bigger and better show for when the time comes to resume our shows overseas.” 

For now, CHAII’s already considerable international reach will get a serious boost thanks to her inclusion in RADAR. “I was truly surprised to be chosen,” says CHAII. “It’s a partnership I’m hugely looking forward to. Spotify has been a big part of getting my music to a wider audience, regardless of not fitting [into any one] box. My music is an example and a reflection of cultures morphing, and I feel the world needs to see, hear, and experience more of that.”

Check out more of the artists selected for Spotify’s global RADAR program.