Tehran rocks, but only under ground

Sep 14, 2011, 7:05 a.m.
Iranian musicians Ramin Rahimi (C), Mahyar Dean (L) and musician and sound engineer Farshid play music at a music studio in Tehran July 17, 2011. Many Iranian bands do not bother asking for the mandatory government permits to release their music and seek contracts with foreign companies or put their music on websites blocked by the state but still accessible to anyone with a modicum of technical nous. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

"Initially we thought that we would be able to obtain permits to release our albums but after (political) conditions changed, it is not even something that crosses our mind anymore," said the band's guitarist, 32-year-old Arin.

In the 1990s, particularly under the two terms of the reformist President Mohammad Khatami, authorities began relaxing restrictions imposed after the revolution. That trend was reversed by hard line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who came to power in 2005.

Musicians' struggle against censorship was the subject of a 2009 movie "No One Knows About Persian Cats," which won the Special Jury prize at Cannes but, like the music it depicted, was banned by the Iranian government.

In the film, a young woman singer Negar (Negar Shaghaghi) and her musician boyfriend, Ashkan (Ashkan Koshanejad), buy false passports and visas and emigrate to London to pursue their ambitions.

In real life, too, many Iranian musicians have left the country in order to continue practicing their art.

Singer-songwriter Mohsen Namjoo, dubbed "Iran's Bob Dylan" by the New York Times due to his protest songs, was sentenced to five years' jail in absentia for insulting religious sanctities. Namjoo lives in California but his music is still heard in Iran.

"I love Namjoo's work and I dream that one day he can have a concert in Iran," said Nahal, a 24-year-old private sector employee who downloads all his works.

With 24-hour MTV-style Persian music channels beamed into Iranian homes by satellite, mostly from Los Angeles, home to a huge Iranian émigré community, the state has hit back, not only by cracking down on illegal satellite dishes, but also, according to some media reports, by offering an alternative.

Reformist daily Sharq, quoting a local website, reported that a new music channel, to be called "Iranian" would be launched in the next few month, broadcasting exclusively Iranian music.

"I have heard that the channel will be run by private sector and it will broadcast authorised music of musicians inside the country," said rapper Ali.

"So it will not help Iran's underground music to show itself."

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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