To hear some of the newest and most exciting music in Iran, you have to go underground – literally.
Underground Musicians in Iran
In the basements of Tehran and other Iranian cities, young musicians practice and perform, flouting confusing and restrictive government regulations of who can make music and what, when and where they can perform it. Western music is frowned upon, as are female lead vocalists. But that hasn’t stopped many young Iranians from creating their own “underground” scene, practicing in private homes and holding shows away from the glare of religious officialdom.
In fact, music is becoming one of the most potent avenues for a new generation of newly empowered women, who sense a tide shifting in their opportunities in the country. They are expressing themselves in ways that previous generations could not have imagined since the Islamic Revolution. But the moderate stance of current president Hassan Rouhani has encouraged more artists and musicians to ply their wares, and tourists and travelers are taking notice.
ABC News met a young “underground” singer in Iran this week. She’s one of many young men and women who perform everything from metal and rock to jazz and R&B, including covers of famous American artists. ABC News spoke with Rana Farhan, a well-known Iranian singer based in New York.
How has music in Iran come to be considered “underground”? How has the scene developed over the years?
Since the Iranian Islamic revolution [in 1979], all music is considered “underground” unless it is approved by the government. Very few are approved, so most young musicians find creative ways around these restrictions through distributing their music and videos over the Internet and playing secret concerts.
What musical genres are most popular among young Iranians?
Iranian young people are like most young people. Their taste ranges from rock to hip-hop and R&B to traditional Iranian music. Although they can’t legally buy it, they find ways to grab songs from the Internet and share them. For instance, my website is blocked in Iran, but if any of my fans send me an email, I will send them my latest mp3s and encourage them to share.
What has your own experience been with music in Iran?
When I was a kid, there used to be this record store called Beethoven. Every week my girlfriend and I would save our lunch money and run down to see what were the latest records that had arrived from overseas. Things like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King. We really liked that blues stuff, and I would take those records home and play them over and over and try to learn them on my brother’s guitar. My brother played in a local band, and they would play concerts and clubs. But of course, all that stopped when the religious right took over. After that we could only play and jam in our basements and in parties.
How do you think the underground music scene will change in the coming years?
I hope it keeps getting better and stronger. No government, no matter how powerful, can stop the liberating spirit of music.
Original content by Original World. Excerpts from an article originally posted on ABCNews.go.com, by Ben Gittleson.
Editor’s Note: Original World Tours offers unique 28- and 16-day cultural immersion tours to Iran in the Spring and the Fall, including Persian Treasures of Iran.