Iran‘s several thousand years of history also go hand in hand with several thousand years of Iranian music-making. Folk musicians have surely been singing in their homes and villages since the dawn of time, though until the modern age classical musicians primarily performed in the royal court–in fact Wikipedia’s
“Music of Iran” page claims that, “the period of Xosroparvis reign [590 AD to 628 AD] is regarded as a ‘golden age of Iranian music.'” Guess it’s all been downhill from there.
The fundamental musical system that underlies Persian classical music is called the “dastgah.” Similar to Arabic maqamat, Turkish makams, and roughly, though not directly, analogous to Western musical modes, dastgahs are groupings of seven basic notes organized with a particular relationship to one another in order to create a specific musical emotion or mood. Even more than just one series of notes, a dastgah refers to the first mode in a piece of music that contains several modes that occur in a group according to tradition; the music begins in one dastgah and moves to others, though it continues to refer to the first.
Persian folk music also operates within a modal system, but in Persian folk there is much less improvisational artistry than in its classical forms. Instead, folk songs’ melodies and rhythms operate within particular boundaries based upon their function. There are lullabies, love songs (and awesome graphics to boot), dance songs (“I know you have been waiting…I’m here now.”), wedding songs (not to mention the
Persian wedding knife dance), etc, that are essential to the traditions of Iranian Azeris,
Kurds, Khorasans (the talking stops and the dance starts at about 2:10), Mazandarans, and the nation’s many other ethnic groups.
With such vast and varied classical and folk music traditions, Persia’s musical purists have been inclined to sneer at more recent Western-inspired Iranian music that has developed since Vigen Derderian (“Sultan of Persian Jazz”) added electric guitar to more traditional Persian instruments in the 1950s. [Watch Vigen perform live. He was truly awesome. As was his tailor.] In the 1970s an Azeri-Iranian vocalist nicknamed Googoosh mesmerized
Persian audience and helmed the so-called “Golden Age of Persian Pop” with her passionate Western-inspired Persian hits. (More about Googoosh below.) Unfortunately for Western-looking musicians such as Googoosh leaders of the 1979 revolution banned pop music and especially forbade women from singing solo in public. During this period many Iranian artists went into exile and built careers in Western cities with large Persian populations such Los Angeles. Some traditional artists like Mohammad Reza Lotfi were able to continue, but under constant threat of having Islamic leaders declare their music
“haram,” or forbidden. (Watch Lotfi perform “Morghe Sahar,” Lotfi has since run afoul of Iran‘s political leadership by singing songs that appeared to support the 2009 protests.)
Today there may not exactly be a thriving public Western music scene in Iran, nor can any music “The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance” deems to be “Western” claim an official release, but Iranians have become adept at sharing their modern music online with each other and the world. Bands like O-Hum, which blends Western pop and rock music with lyrics by 14th century Persian poet Hafez, has developed an international fanbase since it took its music to the internet following the Ministry’s refusal to grant it a release. (Watch O-Hum perform “Darvish” in Berlin in 2004.)
The Iranian government has not completely squelched popular music–the Ministry has, for example, allowed concerts by Arian Band, which was the first Persian pop band to become popular after the Iranian Revolution, its 2000 album “Sun Flower” topping the charts. Arian Band also breaks barriers, and irks some Islamicists, by having a lineup that includes women. Watch Arian Band perform “Parvaz” live in Tehran.
In class we’re going to listen to:
— Googoosh, “Man-O-To”
Born “Faegeh Atashin” in 1950 in Tehran, “Googoosh” (Atashin’s nickname from birth) began performing at an early age alongside her father, an Iranian-Azerbaijani actor and acrobat. She started to act in movies before she was 10, released her first album in 1966 and over the next thirteen years became Iran‘s most popular actress and singer. When the 1979 revolution took place Googoosh was in the United States and could have chosen to stay abroad, but instead she returned to Iran. Back in her homeland she served a three month prison sentence for living with a man out of wedlock, then she had to choose how she would react to the Islamicists’ ban on female vocalists. Rather than flee the country or attempt to perform in protest, Googoosh remained silent. Googosh didn’t sing in public again for over 20 years. In 2000 Googoosh embarked on an international “comeback tour,” performing in 19 cities around the world including Dubai, where the audience included many adoring Iranians. Googoosh now lives in Los Angeles and continues to perform, though, especially after speaking out against the Iranian leadership’s crackdown on 2009 protests, she most likely won’t be singing in Iran any time soon.
— Barobax, “Soosan Khanoom”
Barobax, an underground rock band based in Iran, is composed of three cousins: Khashayar, Kievan and Hamid. The Tehran-born artists make music, produce videos and, according to their website, will even perform at your wedding. Their music, like most Western-style music, is censored in Iran, but the band has used the internet and satellite radio to develop both an unofficial local following and official international one.