Documentary film director and human rights activist
Deeyah, a critically acclaimed music producer, composer, Emmy and Peabody award-winning documentary film director and human rights activist, is known for her outspoken support of women’s rights, freedom of expression and peace.
Born in Norway to immigrant parents of Pashtun and Punjabi ancestry, she was steeped in the rich culture and arts of her parents’ homelands. People of all faiths were in and out of the house--artists, intellectuals and passionate political advocates mixed with friends and neighbors in a highly flavoured hospitable stew.
While her mother worked with women and children as both a teacher and translator, it was her father’s passion for music that first shaped her life. A musical enthusiast, he was a leader in the cultural exchange between Norway and Pakistan, and encouraged seven year-old Deeyah to study with Ustad Bade Fateh Ali Khan, who is recognized as one of the most prominent masters of the Khyal Musical tradition. Cultural tradition reserved these lessons for male pupils, but Deeyah persevered and impressed Khan with her vocal talent, discipline and dedication to music. After several years of Ustad Fateh Ali’s mentorship, she was declared, “one of his favorite students.” Later Deeyah continued her apprenticeship with another master of North India=n Classical music, Ustad Sultan Khan. After again proving her devotion to the art form through tests of character and skill, he would make the trip to Norway in order to give her lessons.
From an early age Deeyah’s unique musical abilities captured the attention of world-renowned musicians and music industry veterans. At eight, she was immersed in a music career usually reserved for those three times her age. She performed on television and at music festivals and by age 12, she was in the studio recording duets with Norwegian pop artists and participating in collaborations with folk and jazz legends like Jan Garbarek, David Lindley Ustad Nazim Ali Khan. At 13, she signed her first recording contract. At 15, she released her solo debut featuring Ustad Sultan Khan, Pakistani tabla legend Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan, and renowned Norwegian musicians Knut Reiersrud, Reidar Skår, Paolo Vinaccia, and Audun Erlien. The young Mercury Prize winning Talvin Singh accompanied her on her first national concert tour.
After moving to London, she continued working with world music genres and performing pop music as well. Her success led to difficult confrontations with more Orthodox Muslims, whose threats eventually made it too dangerous to continue.
Deeyah's last album featured collaborations with Grammy winning pianist Bob James, Police guitarist Andy Summers, and acclaimed Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer.
Eventually, she stopped performing completely and turned her focus to her first love for producing and composing music instead. She now produces projects that combine her passion for art and activism as she continues to broaden her creative expression into film-making and digital media initiatives, driven by a commitment to human rights and social activism.
In 2010 she co-produced the critically acclaimed Listen To The Banned album with the program manager of Freemuse, Ole Reitov. The CD features artists from Asia, Africa and the Middle East who have experienced persecution, censorship or imprisonment for their artistic expression.
In 2011 she produced Nordic Woman, the first release in Fuuse Mousiqi’s WOMAN album series. WOMAN celebrates women’s voices within traditional music from around the world, while drawing attention to women’s rights issues in the region. The second CD release from the WOMAN series is Iranian Woman. In 2012 Deeyah was awarded the Ossietzky Prize by PEN for outstanding achievements for freedom of expression.
As part of Fuuse's HERITAGE series, the Echoes Of Indus CD by maestro Ashraf Sharif Khan Poonchwala was released in 2013.
Deeyah directed and produced her first documentary film through her own production company Fuuse Films. Banaz: A Love Story, addresses the phenomenon of honour killings within immigrant communities in Europe through the story of a young British Kurdish woman who was murdered by her family in London in 2006. Throughout 2012 the film was screened at international film festivals and broadcast on national television in the UK and across Europe and North America winning critical acclaim and prestigious awards. Banaz won the Peabody and 2013 Emmy as well as British Royal Television Society Award nominations.
Continuing her commitment to the issue of honour killings and honour-based violence, Deeyah co-founded HBVA (Honour Based Violence Awareness network) with Joanne Payton in 2012. A one of a kind international digital resource centre, HBVA is a learning, information and training tool created for front-line professionals, from teachers, health workers, social services to police, politicians, and others who may encounter individuals at risk.
Deeyah’s human rights work continues with creating with her brother, actor Adil Khan, the AVA Foundation, a non- profit educational charity. The AVA Foundation provides arts education, mentorship and outlets of self-expression for marginalised children and young people across the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and its diaspora communities in Europe and the US. The AVA Foundation is also a direct response to the rise of nationalism and racism across Europe. It addresses core issues like cultural and identity loss in the wake of globalization in order to nurture greater intercultural understanding and integration.
Deeyah’s life and work is born of being a child of several cultures, being an international musical presence and experiencing the divisions and difficulties within her own life, her own family and her own career. Her ever-growing belief is that artistic expression is an essential language for being of service towards positive change to create a better world.
Today Deeyah continues her work as an artist and activist through FUUSE, her social purpose music and film company.
As a film and music maker Deeyah explores political, cultural and social conditions, particularly focusing on women and human rights. The experience of living between two cultures, both the beauty and the challenges, dominates her artistic vision. The human and artistic expression born from fusion is central to her work.