The Iranian Refugee Who Became a Scandinavian Pop Star

The Iranian Refugee Who Became a Scandinavian Pop Star

After a short acting career, Iranian-Swedish Laleh Pourkarim (born 1983) entered the music industry in 2005 with her debut album “Laleh”, which won several Swedish prices. Read more about the Iranian refugee who became a Scandinavian pop star.

Laleh Poukarim was born in the harbor town of Bandar-e-Anzall on the Caspian Sea in Iran. Her mother, Asefe, was a literary scholar and mathematician and her father, Houshang, a poet, author and journalist whose political involvement forced the family to flee their home country for Azerbajan and later Minsk in the former Soviet Union before Lelah was one year old. The family moved to East Berlin after six years and to Sweden after the fall of the wall when they settled in Hammarkullen in Gothenburg. She spoke a number of languages before she was eight.

The Iranian Refugee Who Became a Scandinavian Pop Star
Laleh Poukarim was born in the harbor town of Bandar-e-Anzall on the Caspian Sea in Iran. Photo: Wikipedia

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At Hvitfeldtska High School she was enrolled in the music program, growing up with classical music, ballet and circus music. She was later interested in punk, reggae and jazz. She also learned to play guitar. She went on to teach herself to play percussion and saxophone.

“Changeability has played a major role in my life,” she says. She became known to the Swedish audiences when she starred as Yasmin in the lauded film “Jalla! Jalla!” (2000) after which she established the jazz band Bejoia.

Her musical breakthrough came with her debut album in 2005, after which she has released seven albums, all produced, written, recorded, engineered and performed by herself. In addition to her parents’ native tongue, Persian, she has sung in both English and Swedish.

In 2011, she participated in a popular Swedish television show and her performances were lauded by both critics and the public. The media was eager to announce that Laleh had been given “a second breakthrough”.

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One of the myths surrounding Laleh is that she is shy, determined and tough. She manages her own career and protects herself as best she can. One story is about the tough prodigy from the suburban developments in Gothenburg who came to the record company with a finished demo and her own production company, called “Lost Army”, and said: “Give me a budget, and I’ll produce it all by myself, damn it!”

The Iranian Refugee Who Became a Scandinavian Pop Star
Her 2012 album, Sjung (Sing), was released across Scandinavia on 25 January 2012

Her 2012 album, Sjung (Sing), was released across Scandinavia on 25 January 2012 to generally positive reviews. Laleh does not just write and produce all her material herself, but she also plays the majority of the instruments on all the recordings. Laleh has often been described as a control freak, and she admits she knows what she’s doing. “I’m totally in control,” she says.

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In January 2014, she signed to Island Records and released the Boom EP. In 2016, she released the album Kristaller (Crystals) and in 2019, the album Vänta (Wait!). Laleh’s magical ability to write songs that go straight into the heart simply cannot be underestimated.

Kristaller is a collection of ten songs, five of which were in Swedish and which Laleh defines as “glimpses of something”. If pop stars sing mainly about love, Laleh is an exception from the rule. She has written extensively about death and her 2012 song Some Die Young became an unofficial tribute to those who lost their lives or loved ones during the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway, after she performed it during the one-year anniversary memorial.


“There is too much rumination today,” she says. “Many trifles and unfinished love griefs. If you write ten songs about someone leaving you, you are spoiled. If I were to write about the same things over and over again, I would be bored. ”

Both Laleh’s parents have passed away – her father in 1994 and her mother just days after the album Colors was released in October 2013. She moved to Los Angeles in 2014 and says, “I’m working in my own studio, like I always have done.”

Her song “Speaking of Truth” was featured in the E! Channel original scripted series The Royals in March 2015. In 2015, Laleh co-wrote “Stone Cold”, “Yes” and “Father” from Demi Lovato’s fifth studio album, Confident, and two songs for Tori Kelly’s first album Unbreakable Smile. She was also featured on Adam Lambert’s single “Welcome to the Show”. Lambert and Laleh performed live at American Idol.

in late 2016 she toured in Sweden, performing in indoor arenas, including a sold out concert at the Ericsson Globe Arena. Her show included a symphony orchestra.

Her last official concert was in Skellefteå, Sweden in August 2019.

The Iranian Refugee Who Became a Scandinavian Pop Star, written by Tor Kjolberg

Feature image (on top): Press photo