|Mohammad-Reza Lotfi – a highly recognised musician thoughout Iran as well as the rest of the world – said at a press conference that he wishes to eliminate Iran’s prohibition on solo vocal performances by women, reported the Tehran Times.
“I don’t believe in the segregation of men and women because I think that art is not just for only one gender. However, if Iran’s constitutional law and political system have prohibited women from solo vocal performances in public, despite my desire, I have to respect the law as an Iranian citizen.”
The renowned Iranian traditional musician and conductor Mohammad-Reza Lotfi stated this when he held a press conference on 19 April 2008 to promote a concert series of his at Tehran’s National Grand Hall in May, wrote the Tehran Times.
He was also quoted as saying, “it is unfair to use women as carriage wheels of men.”
The 61-year-old setar virtuoso is often referred to as the “father of new aesthetics in Persian music” and a “living musical legend”, and because of his recognition a statement like this is highly controversial in a country where solo performances by female singers are currently permitted only in concerts restricted to all-female audiences, and where women singers are allowed to appear only in choral performances if the audience includes males.
Mohammad-Reza Lotfi returned home to Iran from the United States after 20 years in 2006, and soon after he reopened the Mirza Abdollah Music School and the Ava-ye Sheida Institute recording company. Then he founded the Women’s Sheida – a band with women musicians and a male singer, and the Sheida of Restoration – a band which performs and records Lotfi’s rearrangements of Iranian traditional pieces.
“Protection” against sexuality of women
This explanation can be found in an article entitled ‘Divine discrimination’ by Nakissa Sedaghat on Iranian.com. The author of the article argues that the religious law in Iran imposes unequal treatment of women. Segregation of women, she writes, is a result of the religious law:
“Gender segregation is a result of religious leaders’ cultural viewing of women as sexual beings whose sole goal in life is to tempt men so that they can fulfill their own sexual desires. This cultural view affects the interpretation of Islamic and Jewish edicts on “modesty” of women, resulting in the wearing of the veil in Iran and of long skirts and wigs or hats for Ultra-Orthodox women in Israel. This imposed “uniform” results in a further segregation of women when they venture out of their homes into the public sphere. It succeeds in dehumanizing them, and robbing them of their individuality.
(…) Women are encouraged culturally and religiously, if not by law (yet), to remain in the confines of their homes to fulfill their “duties” as wife and mother. Also, for the same reasons of “protection” against sexuality of women, women are not allowed to sing in public in Iran.”
A case of self-censorship
“Family gatherings are a fundamental structure to the social relations in Iran and family bonds are very close. The young woman was a music student and performed a beautiful song in the garden as her family looked on. As the evening progressed everybody started dancing (officially men and women should be dancing in separate rooms) and even some alcohol appeared (strictly forbidden). The woman grew more and more quiet and finally asked me to erase her singing. I was shocked at the self-censorship but I followed her request to black out her singing. However I kept all the video footage before and after the song recording, the chatter and applause, and on reflection I realized that the absence commented far more deeply on the social dynamic of this culture.”
Tehran Times – 21 April 2008:
‘Iranian music icon wants to bring solo female vocalists back to the stage’