This is music from a brave and extraordinary musical movement.
Robin Denselow 2010
This is far more than just a pop album. It’s a reminder that in Iran pop music is banned, but that aspiring musicians and fans are still willing to challenge the authorities and risking being beaten or jailed to create, or even listen to, the music they love. Pop music is not forbidden everywhere in the Islamic world, of course, and some of the finest World Music artists are devote Muslims from Africa or the Middle East. But the hard-line Iranian authorities argue that such music is impure, especially when sung by a woman. Many young Iranians furiously disagree.
This is the soundtrack album to a remarkable new film telling a fictionalised story of the present-day Tehran musical underground – but it’s based on real events and real people, many of whom appear on screen. It’s a story about two young pop musicians who have recently been released from prison but are determined not to give up, and are searching for a rhythm section so that they can play an underground gig, while dreaming of escaping to the West. It’s dangerous being a musician in Iran, and it was equally dangerous filming what is going on. Predictably enough, the Iranian authorities refused to give permission for this film to be made, and Iranian-Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi was arrested twice during filming. Co-writer Roxana Saberi, an American journalist, had an even tougher time: she was jailed for being a spy, and was released just two days before the film won a Special Jury Prize at Cannes.
The album must be heard with all of that in mind, for some sections might otherwise be dismissed as enthusiastic but unremarkable indie-rock (especially as many of the lyrics are in English). Nearly half of the tracks are by the band Take It Easy Hospital, featuring Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Kooshanejad, who star in their film and now live in London. Their Western-influenced, keyboard-based pop ranges from the confident, upbeat Me and You to the light and drifting My Sleepy Fall, while more distinctively Iranian styles are provided by the rousing vocals and percussion of Darkub (DK) and the rock guitar work of Hamed Seyed Javadi (Fekr).
Further reminders of the remarkable variety in the Tehran scene are shown by the excellent, flamenco-influenced guitar work of Shervin Najafian, and the hip hop track from Hichkas, Ekhelaf. This is music from a brave and extraordinary musical movement.