How Taylor Hanson Helped Get 16K People on Song Supporting Women in Iran: 'You Have a Voice' (Exclusive)

The musician and activist tells PEOPLE that the Voices Project is meant to inspire people to "elevate the voices of those who have been silenced"

<p>Daniel Boczarski/Getty</p> Taylor Hanson in Austin, Texas, on March 17, 2023

Daniel Boczarski/Getty

Taylor Hanson in Austin, Texas, on March 17, 2023

Taylor Hanson is harnessing the power of music to spread awareness about the ongoing civil unrest in Iran.

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini — the 22-year-old Iranian woman who died in custody for allegedly wearing a hijab too loosely — nonprofit For Women Life Freedom is releasing a new version of the Grammy-winning song "Baraye — For Women Life Freedom," originally by Iranian artist Shervin Hajipour.

"Known as the Voices Project, the song features over 16,000 voices — including Rufus Wainwright, Ben Folds, Ryan Cabrera, Cassadee Pope, Darren Criss, Kevin McHale, Gus Van Sant and thousands of everyday people — each representing a peaceful political prisoner currently jailed in Iran," reads an official release.

Hanson, who co-founded For Women Life Freedom and is best known as one-third of the band Hanson with brothers Isaac and Zac, spoke with PEOPLE about the song, calling it "a musical expression" of "a human-rights call to action — a cry for help coming from a people, that is relevant to all people."

"I think the power of this song — and the power of hopefully our rendition, which we created through the Voices Project — is to just bring that simple message that there is a series of injustices going on against the people that, first and foremost, we need to recognize," says the musician and activist, 40.

Hanson also hopes the song will "bring the hearts and minds of people who don't see themselves as a part of that cause, and that movement, to the conversation — and bring awareness, so that the additional things that need to happen over time, the meaningful shifts in supporting those folks, can happen. But it has to begin with hearts and minds."

<p>Jonathan Weiner/courtesy FWLF</p> Taylor Hanson, his kids and more for "Baraye - For Women Life Freedom"

Jonathan Weiner/courtesy FWLF

Taylor Hanson, his kids and more for "Baraye - For Women Life Freedom"

Related: The Women of Iran Are TIME's Heroes of the Year: Photos of Their Inspiring Fight for Justice

On Sept. 13, 2022, Amini was detained by morality police in Iran for not covering her hair as required by law. Three days later, she died in police custody.

Since then, women in Iran and around the world have been protesting in her name, demanding justice and rights despite facing arrest and death themselves. Because of their bravery now and in years prior, TIME named the Women of Iran the 2022 Heroes of the Year.

Hanson tells PEOPLE he "really didn't understand this issue" himself a year ago, and his involvement "started with hearing from a few people I trust who have a connection to this cause."

"What struck me when I suddenly really got a picture of what's going on in Iran is our whole generation has grown up really hearing [about] Iran and thinking of a government that we're at odds with as a nation," he continues. "And that has been true, because this government really has no respect for human rights and has a consistent history of perpetuating violence against specifically women, but people within their country."

"It struck me that the people of this country are actually the first who have been victims of the government running Iran," Hanson says. "And suddenly something happened in me. I saw myself as a dad, as a brother, and I thought to myself, 'If [this happened to] my daughter or my wife or my sister' — for that matter, my brothers, as women are not the only victims, but they're certainly the extreme target of violence — I have to believe I would be in the streets protesting with them."

<p>Jonathan Weiner/courtesy FWLF</p> Cover art for "Baraye — For Women Life Freedom"

Jonathan Weiner/courtesy FWLF

Cover art for "Baraye — For Women Life Freedom"

The original version of "Baraye" (which translates to "Because of" or "for") nabbed Hajipour the first-ever Grammy Award for best song for social change earlier this year.

And for its new iteration, Hanson tapped into the "iconic" Henson Recording Studios in Los Angeles, influenced partly due to the fact that it was where "We Are the World" was recorded in the 1980s (when it was previously known as A&M Recording Studios).

"We basically put out a call to action to many of the incredible leaders of Iranian and Persian background across L.A. especially, because there's many people of that heritage in Los Angeles," he says. "And we said, 'Join us, bring your flags, bring your energy, and sing on this new project.' "

To that end, Hanson helped recruit 16,000 people — including the aforementioned celebrity musicians, and even his three daughters Penelope, 18, Wilhelmina, 10, and Maybellene, 2 — to sing in what he describes as "a marathon session" of about 250 people at a time in one studio, with "special guests" in a second.

"The Voices Project is really not simply about recording something and sharing a song," says Hanson, who is a father of seven and also president of the Recording Academy's Texas Chapter. "It's about reaching people with a simple message: You have a voice that can elevate the voices of those who have been silenced through what's going on in [Iran]."

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Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty A protester with a drawing of Mahsa Amini in Toulouse, France, on Dec. 3, 2022
Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty A protester with a drawing of Mahsa Amini in Toulouse, France, on Dec. 3, 2022

Related: Angelina Jolie Says Women of Iran 'Need Freedom to Live' as Protests Continue After Mahsa Amini's Death

Asked about whether he is in contact with Hajipour, who is currently on house arrest in Iran, Hanson says that "there is communication" between Hajipour "and people throughout the movement."

"What we've done has been completely led by folks around the world who are inspired by him, and we know he's very directly aware of what we're trying to do. And we're really ultimately standing up for all the people in Iran, of course," he adds. "So, through that, we're standing up for Shervin and for others that have taken the ultimate risk."

The new version of "Baraye" also includes a video accompaniment, which is similar to Hajipour's original video and "shows Shervin and myself, as well as the video of the many, many, many participants," Hanson tells PEOPLE.

The format, he says, was inspired by a desire "to show that, once again, we're all only capable of doing what each of us can do, and Shervin has been an inspiration by choosing to put himself in front of a message, in front of a cause, simply by posting a video."

"And as simple as that sounds, it's actually incredibly bold," Hanson adds. "I would share with him that he's been a huge inspiration and continues to be an inspiration to people who are hoping that one day they'll have a chance at the basic freedoms that his song and the movement have articulated the desire for."

"Baraye — For Women Life Freedom" is streaming now on Spotify.

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