Iran: Music gives hope

17 July 2009

In Austin Dacey’s article about the underground music scene in Iran, members of the exiled rock band Kiosk share their insight into the system of music censorship in Iran

“The entire music industry in Iran is run by the Lalezar mafia, which is tied to the Ershad (Ministry of Islamic Guidance) and Seda Sima (state-run TV and radio). If they do not have any control or do not profit from the music works, they will either block it from being released or will not promote it at all,” explained two members of the rock band Kiosk, Babak Khiavchi and Arash Sobhani, who started in a Tehran basement and have since landed in Seattle.

Austin Dacey, a lecturer, editor, and programme director with the think tank Center for Inquiry, writes about the music scene in Iran:

“This scene is underground in the gravest sense. Certain forms of music are not just discouraged but actively suppressed by authorities. Participants risk harrassment and imprisonment by a regime that routinely tortures dissidents. In May 2009, a heavy metal concert in Shiraz was raided by Islamist militia who arrested over 100 people on grounds of immorality (drinking alcohol) and ‘devil worship’.” (…)

“Women face an addition barrier as they’re banned from solo vocal performances (except in front of all-female audiences). This extends even to traditional and classical music. What toll do such conditions take on creativity?”

Under pressure

The duo from Kiosk explains:
“By not being able to perform or record, musicians are financially under pressure. They all have to work several jobs to make ends meet, leaving less time for them to devote to their passion. The fact that you cannot perform or write music that you believe in, and cannot express yourself freely in your own country, using your own language, has a devastating emotional effect.”

“Many artists have tried to work with the loopholes in the system, or to adjust themselves to the restrictions, but there are no clear guidelines or visible red lines to look out for, you just know they exist. Overall we are no better off than we were 10 years ago in terms of self-expression as artists.”

Rich Persian heritage

Arash and Babak locate Iranian rock in the long historical arc of the Arab conquest of Persia and the imposition of Islam on Zoroastrian culture in the 7th century:

“The cultural struggle still continues, and with it comes the censorship, but Iranians will never give up their rich Persian heritage and change their identity.”
One great oral tradition that survived was the ancient epic poem Shahnameh, or Book of Kings. Its verses could be heard recited in coffee houses by professional storytellers called naqqali — literally, a transmitter. As my tireless activist friend Banafsheh points out, the Persian rapper might just be the new naqqali.

Songs dedicated to the uprising
The members of Kiosk hope that their work will support their fellow musicians back home. Already numerous songs dedicated to the recent uprising have been recorded and circulated online.

“At all the demonstrations and rallies, songs like ‘Yare Dabestani Man’ [‘My fellow schoolmate’] and ‘Ey Iran’ are being sung with the sense of a new meaning and more power in the lyrics. Music gives hope, it unites and helps people find ways to express themselves, and with a country that is taken hostage by the regime, music gives them a voice.”


Click to read more about music censorship in Iran


Read the article

Religion Dispatches – 9 July 2009:

‘Rage Against the Regime: Voices from the Iranian Underground Music Scene’

More articles about Kiosk

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

BBC World – 27 February 2009:

‘Iran’s underground pop gypsies’

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