Iran: Musicians respond to the crisis

23 June 2009
Despite a general ban on most forms of popular music by the Islamic government in Iran, rock music has become one of the most vibrant forces for critiquing the various ills of Iranian society, writes music researcher Mark Levine

Mark Levine is in close contact with numerous rock, heavy metal and rap musicians in Iran, and he keeps updating a web page with comments and news stories, and some of the emails they musicians have sent him describing what they are experiencing. Mark Levine has changed their names to protect their identities. The page is hosted by The Huffington Post.

He writes:
“Long before the current violence, metalheads were willing to risk arrest, forced haircuts in jail, beatings and even threats to their families in order to pursue the music they love. The loose clothing and short hair favored by hip hoppers have made them a less obvious target for regime thugs and morality police; but both extreme metal artists and hip hoppers in Iran have been arrested for the politically and socially charged nature of their music, which circulated throughout the internet despite the best attempts of the government to stop it.

Music, and artistic expression more broadly, has always been a core part of Persian culture. While music has yet to play a public role in the protests similar to the role of artists in the Beirut Spring of 2006, they are working behind the scenes, using their art as a way to write about the experiences of the last week, and to describe a vision for a better future.”

Protest songs on
BBC Persian Service reported that the tar player Dariush Pirniakan said that he won’t play again until the unrest stops and people get their vote back, and the British magazine Songlines wrote that “The speed of musical response was astounding.”

Within days, seveal music videos were on YouTube using a slogan about ‘dust and dirt’ which refers to a speech by Ahmadinejad where, on the day after the election result was announced, he described his critics as ‘sut and dirt’.

The anthem-like ‘Khas o Khashak’ and the classical ‘Toofane Khak’ (‘Storm of Dust and Dirt’) were placed on in several versions by unidentified musicians.

Laudan Nooshin wrote in Songlines August-September issue: “The events in Iran have sent ripples around the world, and non-Iranian musicians have been sending their own messages of solidarity. Perhaps the most touching is a version of Ben E. King’s classic ‘Stand By Me’, sung in Persian and English and recorded in LA on June 24 by Iranian pop-singer Andy Madadian, Jon Bon Jovi (singing in Persian) and others. It’s a spine-tingling performance, which shows the amazing power of music to transcend cultural and geographical boundaries and bring people together.”

Laudan Nooshin ends the article in Songlines with reporting that “Today I hear that all concerts have been cancelled and people are even frightened of carrying musical instruments in public. Despite this, we can be sure that what has turned into an incredible musical wave wil continue as musicians use every opportunity to take a stand and make their voices heard.”


  Click to read more about music censorship in Iran
Read more

Mark Levine, The Huffington Post – 18 June 2009 (updated continously):

‘Blog Posts From Iran’s Metal and Hip Hop Artists: Is Music the Weapon of the Future in Iran?’

Mark Levine’s Heavy Metal Islam book website:
 – with information about Iranian metal and hip hop artists, including links to their videos and music from the forthcoming EMI compilation album ‘Flowers in the Desert’
Chapter abouit Iran in the book ‘Heavy Metal Islam’
‘Chapter 5: Iran’

Tehran Avenue – online arts magazine:
 – an arts perspective on the situation in Iran. The online magazine covering the arts scene in Tehran, and which has sponsored several online “battle of the bands” featuring some of the best heavy metal groups in the country, has extensive coverage of the protests, including videos.

Contact Mark Levine
If you are an Iranian artist, musician or rapper, or know any who want to share their experiences, contact Mark Levine at a <href=””>
  Click to open Chapter 5 in pdf format
39 pages about Heavy Metal in Iran

Fighting back against censorship

Article by BBC about ‘Nobody’


One young man fighting back against censorship is a rapper called ‘Nobody’ and his music, although American in origin, is very much Iranian in content.

‘Nobody’ raps about God and nationalism along with social commentary. He has even written a rap in defense of Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

The authorities regard ‘Nobody’s’ music as western and decadent and he is banned from performing and forbidden to travel. Yet his music and his messages are performed at night on rooftops in the city and downloaded by young Iranians in defiance of the ban.







BBC News – 8 June 2009:

‘Iran: Rap, blogs and the political mix’

More about music and censorship in Iran

Religion Dispatches – 9 July 2009:

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

Songlines Magazine – 30 July 2009:

‘Iranian protest music’

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Officials in Singapore have thrown out an appeal against a ban on Janet Jackson’s album, ‘All For You’. The Publications Appeal Committee, a panel of academics and professionals, decided that the lyrics of the album, particularly one song, Would You Mind, were “not acceptable to our society”. The record was initially outlawed because of its “sexually explicit lyrics”. The song lyrics include “I just wanna touch you, tease you, lick you, please you, love you, make love to you.”
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