Iran: Concerts cancelled

21 October 2004

”The Most Problematic Art Form” in Iran

“Music can be considered the most vulnerable and problematic art form in the Iranian history,” according to Shadi Vatanparast from the Iranian web-magazine He reports how the post-Islamic history of the country is rife with examples of musical oppression

“The state has always tried to control artistic production and music is one of the more effective ways of directing desires. In this, the state is usually hand in glove with financial interests, even though the former tries to pass its action off on moral grounds. The businessmen of music today are following the same guidelines that any businessman follows: limiting musical groups to only a few to control the audience’s expectations and to make the market predictable for themselves (…)”

According to Shadi Varanparast the fact that foreign bands are short of performances in Iran is an example of the difficulties which the Iranian music scene faces. The whole bureaucracy game can often be the greatest obstacle. For anybody to play, release a CD or arrange a concert, they need permission from ERSHAD which is the Ministry of Culture’s intelligence arm. Such a permission can be difficult to obtain. Some wait weeks, others months, and some forever.

The Lyric Council and the Music Council have until recently been the two units responsible for the control and censoring of albums and concerts in Iran. A third council, the Cultural Council, has now been set up as well.

Shadi Varanparast writes that the exact names of the members are still unknown to him but they include representatives from the Leader of the Revolution, the religious city of Qom, and the Ministry of Interior. The Council is different from other such supervisory outfits in that it can appeal to vague political and philosophical explanations to justify it decision.


Concert cancelled in the last minute


On 8th and 9th of October, 2004, The Juliani Jazz Quartet from Italy was scheduled to perform at the Niavaran Palace in Tehran. The Niavaran Palace is a public venue and the band had been given green light by the relevant security authorities (ERSHAD). In the last minute before the concert, the band was suddenly informed that the permission was not granted anyway, and the concert had to be cancelled.

Fortunately the Italian Embassy had the possibility to host a small concert with the Quartet who was originally supposed to give two evening concerts in Tehran.

A week later, a Swiss classical ensemble was supposed to perform but cancelled due to the problematic security procedure.

Since then, there has been no similar incidents, but the number of concerts scheduled, because of the confusion at decision-making levels, have decreased severely compared to previous years.


Music Society in Iran protests


In October 2004 the Society of Niavaran Musicians in Tehran suspended all its scheduled concerts in a protest of the problematic procedure getting permissions from the official securities. They demanded the decision making process to be more transparent. Soon after, the group that formed the Society of Niavaran disbanded, and they haven’t come together ever since.

Shadi Varanparast from TehranAvenue in Iran writes that obtaining permissions for concerts and album releases has become increasingly difficult over the last couple of months along with a change in the Governmental Music center. Homafar has taken over the leadership after Moradkhani. Only time can show whether these increased difficulties are a direct result of the change in leadership. It often shows that financial interests also are a part of the game.

Bands who have been allowed to perform before has now had their concert cancelled. These include Nour, Meera, Rumi and Arian. Tar and Setar player Hossein Alizadeh and folk musician Hossein Hamdi are still awaiting permissions to release their albums after eight months of waiting. Farshad Fozuni has also had problems obtaining a permission to release his new album.

The cultural council which has been set up recently was this time responsible for the rejection of the permit. The album was accused of being too nihilistic.

Shadi Varanparast writes that the council ordered some changes in the album for the permit to be issued, among them the addition of plain words at the end of each song to reduce the nihilistic effect of music and the change of several words in the lyrics including “preacher” for “poet” and “police” for “thug”. It is notable that the album lyrics were those of Shel Silverstein previously translated and published in Iran.

Obstacles from Law Enforcement’s Office of Land

In the article “Music, Municipality, and the Ministry”, Shadi Vatanparast reports how activities of the music store Saracheh Musiqui (‘The Music Chamber’) was closed down in June 2004, because of objections raised by Law Enforcement’s Office of Land, Amaken. He reports that Amaken’s presence in the city is felt everywhere and it is this office that has cancelled (or caused to cancel) many concerts in recent years.

Shadi Vatanparast, October 2004:  
“The Problematic Art”

Shadi Vatanparast, September 2004:  
“Music, Municipality, and the Ministry”,
December 2002:   ‘Singing in the Absence of Others’

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