Singer and media personality Mozhdah Jamalzadah brought a vibrant personality and fresh cultural lens to citizens in Afghanistan by way of The Mozhdah Show, an Oprah-style television program that aired in the country during the late 2000s. In her new biography, journalist Roberta Staley charts Jamalzadah’s rise from refugee to a driving political and cultural force in the Afghani diaspora.
Jamalzadah, her parents, and her two young brothers left Kabul in 1987, during the civil war. Escaping first to Pakistan through the Afghan mountains by disguising themselves as a peasant family – with Nasrin, Jamalzadah’s mother, donning a heavy blue burka to play the part of a timid peasant wife – the family eventually settled in Oshawa, Ontario, and then in Vancouver. Though they gradually relaxed into their new Canadian lives, the shadow of Afghanistan remained as a constant reminder of the life she left behind. It was a reminder that would push her to return to the country of her birth and fight for the future of its girls and women.
In prose that crackles with detail, Staley brings Jamalzadah’s journey to vivid, colourful life. The pacing in Voice of Rebellion at times feels ragged – the account of the family’s initial journey through the Afghan mountains is immersive and deliberate, while whole years of Jamalzadah’s adolescence more or less disappear under the umbrella of a few chapters meant to indicate her restlessness and yearning. But the people themselves are rich and multi-faceted.
Nasrin, who becomes Jamalzadah’s music manager and the originator of the idea for The Mozhdah Show, shines particularly brightly. In her gentle fight to encourage her daughter to embrace her talents, Nasrin embodies the steely resolve that permeates Jamalzadah’s cultural ascent in Afghanistan, which has the effect of boosting women and girls inside the country and beyond its borders.
Staley’s account of Jamalzadah’s rise, struggle, and triumph reminds us all that we succeed in no small part due to the courage of those who come before us, and that the world puts forward its best face when we reach out to support one another.