Iran: Women & music censorship

20 January 2004

Background material on music and censorship in Iran

“Under wraps on the stage: women in the performing arts in post-revolutionary Iran” (1998)

Since the 1979 Revolution in Iran, women have been key contributors to contemporary Iranian cinema, and to a lesser extent theatre and music. Contrary to the Western belief that the veil and other aspects of male dominance completely imprison women, my research demonstrates that they have fought against it and found their footing in cinema and theatre.
This paper attempts to trace the efforts these women have made. It outlines a frame of reference for the study of Iranian women artists and reveals the contradictory circumstances of life for women under the Islamic Republic. Despite sometimes severe censorship, Iranian women’s roles in the performing arts have been remarkably diverse in approach and style, and have represented extraordinarily powerful and unexpected visions of contemporary life.

Read full paper

Sepideh Vahidi is an Iranian vocalist born in Tehran in 1966 currently living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Sepideh had excellent exposure to many styles of music since her father was a radio producer and a friend of many musicians and singers. It was in those circles that she was introduced to traditional Persian music and classical Iranian poetry. After the 1979 revolution in Iran, all academic music classes were banned, especially for women. In 1986 Sepideh began taking private vocal lessons and studying traditional music with a number of famous Iranian traditional and folk singers, namely Parissa, Sima Bina, and others until 2002 when she immigrated to the United States.

More information (Franklin Furnace organization)

Introduction to Persian Traditional Music
The music of Iran has changed considerably in the past 25 years, which incidentally is the period of the Islamic Revolution and the establishment of theocracy in Iran. It is an open question whether Iranian music has changed as a direct result of the Revolution, or whether the music would have evolved similarly in any case. Before 1979, one could easily have separated Persian music into two distinct categories: art music and pop music.
The strong censorship practiced before the Revolution required the music to be void of any political messages, and most of the time pop music was the form presented on The National Radio and Television of Iran. Broadcasts of traditional music performances usually ran no longer than 15 minutes. This restriction was established by the producers and had the effect of cramping the music and its form.

Read more (from InterNews/Iranian Culture)

  Shoot the Singer - read more
See also the chapter “Singing in a theocracy: female musicians in Iran” (in Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today, published by Zed Books/Freemuse, May 2004)
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