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With his combat pants, bandana and neatly trimmed goatee, D J Besho looks like any other gangsta rapper.

In his music video, he raps from the hood of a Hummer. But that's where the similarities with the gangsta rappers of Los Angeles and New York end. There are no gyrating girls in bikinis in the background and no references to guns, drugs or women. This is Afghanistan and, five years after the fall of the Taliban, the country's first rapper is still constrained by a tight social code.

"We have to take it step by step," the 28-year-old said. "It will be a while before I can introduce booty shaking to Afghanistan."

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For his next video, the rapper, whose real name is Bezhan Zafarmal, is planning to go to Tajikistan to film. There, according to D J Besho, "it's another life. The girls are free and they love Afghans." He's hoping he might be able to get a few to appear in his video.

D J Besho, whose moniker means diamond, honed his rapping skills in Germany. He left Afghanistan when he was 10 years old, shortly after he had seen his friend killed. "It was my best friend, Jawad," he said, "and a rocket hit him in the neck."

It was this tragedy, one of many in a country that has suffered almost three decades of war, that prompted D J Besho and his family to leave. They moved first to India, then China, followed by Russia, before finally settling just outside Frankfurt, Germany.

D J Besho now splits his time between Germany and Afghanistan, where he has a contract with the nation's most popular TV station, Tolo TV, a sort of MTV meets Bollywood, and his video is a frequent and popular feature. In Germany, he has a "crew" of German and Afghan rappers who are his supporting performers and protectors.

"In Germany, I have bodyguards, but here, only God is my bodyguard," said D J Besho who, like many rappers, has also started his own clothing line.

Living in so many countries while he was growing up influenced his rapping style. "I rap mainly in Dari," he said, "but also German and English."

In Afghanistan, the message D J Besho preaches is a positive one. The rapper who counts Tupac Shakur, killed in an L.A. gang feud, as his biggest influence said: "God blessed me; my style is a mixture of gangster and life.

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"The people here are used to fighting, but I teach against war, to not fight their brothers, to respect everyone. They should only fight with their raps, not their fists or with guns."

He also works lyrics from old Afghan love songs into his music. One of his most popular songs tells of a man's love for a girl from the provinces who is beautiful with pale skin and magnificent eyes.

There is no doubt D J Besho is striking a chord with Afghanistan's young. He is so popular that Afghan President Hamid Karzai requested a meeting with him. But D J Besho was an hour late and missed the appointment.

Walking the streets, it is common to hear his music. "All the people in Afghanistan like him," said Ahmad Jawid, a 23-year-old mobile-phone-card salesman. "He is a very good rapper, he is amazingly successful, and what clothes. I am so proud he is Afghan."

D J Besho is aware of his popularity. "Everybody in Afghanistan knows me," he said. "I have many friends."

However, not everyone in Afghanistan seems completely won over. "He is handsome and brave," said Fatah Fedaee, a 26-year-old shopkeeper. "But why is he wearing a winter coat in spring? It is very hot."

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He has also been criticized by Afghanistan's religious elite. "Music is not banned in Islam, but to get enjoyment from music is banned," said Mullah Abdul Rauf of the Herati Mosque in the centre of Kabul. "Singing about women and guns is certainly not allowed."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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