Recording artist Laleh (pronounced La-ley) Pourkarim Scandinavian pop stardom began in the northern Iranian border town of Bandar-e Anzali, where she was born, fleeing that war-torn country a year later, first to Azerbaijan, then to Minsk in former Sovjet, and finally, at the age of 9, a refugee camp in Tidaholm, Sweden. Her music, as one can hear in the international hit single, "Some Die Young," topped the charts all over Scandinavia, going to #1 for eight consecutive weeks in Norway and sold 14 times platinum, and the album sold double-platinum in Sweden. The song received four more Grammis nominations for Song of the Year, Composer of the Year, Pop Artist of the Year and Lyricist of the Year.
"I had that title for a while before I had the right song to go with it" says Laleh of the smash from her fourth studio album, Sjung (Sing), which set a digital chart record in Sweden for placing 10 songs on the Top 60, including nine in the Top 40, remaining #1 on the album chart for four weeks. After the album was released, Sjung's songs held 5 out of the top 6 positions on the iTunes Swedish singles Chart. "It had to be uplifting. You know the feeling when you're underwater and you go swim to the surface to find air. That's the kind of desperation I was trying to capture. That's why the lyrics might be sad, but the drums and the energy keep you from falling totally on the floor".
Laleh's peripatetic youth led directly to her seeking a safe refuge by creating her own world in music from an early age. By six, she was writing poems and songs; by 13 she learned how to play guitar and piano, then taught herself percussion and saxophone, citing early favorites like John Coltrane, Leonard Cohen, Billie Holiday, Cat Stevens, Prince, Stevie Wonder and fellow Swedes ABBA. When she was still a teenager, she performed around Sweden, building a following, attracting the interest of several local record labels.
Sparking a bidding war, she used her Warner Sweden advance to build her own recording studio, taking three years to come out with 2005's self-titled debut, writing and performing all the songs, playing every instrument as well as producing and engineering. The album went on to earn seven Swedish Grammis nominations, winning three for Artist of the Year, New Artist of the Year and Producer of the Year, producing the hit single, "Live Tomorrow."
"These days, you don't get that luxury of learning while you work," says Laleh about the experience of recording her first album. "I've always known I was going to do this on my own. The best part for me is creating in the studio. It's really fun to be able to produce exactly what you hear in your mind. To have the power to do that is great."
Three more albums followed in Prinsessor (2006), Me and Simon (2009) and Sjung (2012), all containing mostly English songs, with three or four in Swedish. Laleh has toured extensively in most of Scandinavia's major venues, and last year performed "Some Die Young" with a symphony orchestra in a remarkable dress featuring a train that covered the stage at last December's 2012 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. She is currently working on new songs for her first American release through Island Def Jam Music Group.
Given her background, it is no surprise that Laleh's songs reflect a belief that, despite all the hardships, things turn out for the best. "Elephant" tells the story of prisoners in the desert hearing "children play with the guards of the jail," amid dreams of rising up "like an elephant from the mud" and seeing "the city will be reborn."
"It would be wrong for me to ignore I was once a refugee child myself," says Laleh, who lost her father at 12 when he drowned in front of her trying to save someone else. "Moving from country to country has influenced me. I will always be a part of the dispossessed, somehow I think we all are. That's not something I choose. It's just the way I am. It's a part of me. That's why I love music so much. From nothing-silence, no sound, emptiness-I can build my own world, where I can be prophetic about what happens. I can built a choir of people singing, with, or to me, and the songs are almost like a play where I can have the freedom to make things turn out well in the end. That's why I don't want anybody in my way. I get to hold the brush, choose the colors and paint the pictures. My studio is a playground for me, someplace I can be free for a while, where reality and facts don't matter. where gravity is something I can choose to obey or ignore. Even though some of my songs can seem dark, it helps me to write about these things. It makes me happy."
"I won't lose my integrity," she insists. "I'll be who I am and my songs will lead me to where I'm supposed to be. 'Some Die Young' is kind of forcing me to follow it around the world and I will go where the audience takes me.
"In the end, it's the songs that are important. Everything else is just details."
No stations playing Laleh now
Some Die Young