Episode 2: Underground Music in Contemporary Iran (Part I)
In the second episode of Siamak Pourzand Foundation’s People of the Underground podcast series, Parham Haghighi, a musician, speaks about the nuances and realities of music in Iran. In this podcast, he depicts a realistic image of the music world in today’s Iran, and examines the quality and evolution of various genres of music, addressing both the impacts of the ongoing state-sponsored censorship, as well as the opportunities that have emerged thanks to Internet.
Mr. Haghighi highlights three factors that contribute to the likelihood of state censorship and deprive musicians from obtaining official licenses to produce, perform and distribute their work. He considers “genre” to be a factor in state censorship, as some genres seem inherently more threatening to the Islamic Republic authorities than others. For instance, he mentions that, excluding other factors, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance is more likely to issue a license for an album labeled as Pop music than an album that is considered Rock, Rap or Heavy Metal. He further speaks about the contents of music albums as another important factor when it comes to state-sponsored censorship in Iran. Yet, he reminds the listeners that for reasons that seem difficult to understand, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has a history of also rejecting many instrumental albums that do not even have any lyrics, calling them symbols of western cultural invasion. Mr. Haghighi also considers gender to be a factor in state censorship of music, as women are not allowed to sing solo in the Islamic Republic.
Mr. Haghighi further speaks about the growing importance of the internet in terms of reaching out to large groups of audiences and general distribution regardless of governmental limitations. Meanwhile, he points to various music scenes in cities other than Tehran such as Mashhad where he grew up, and he insists on the critical need to pay closer attention to emerging musicians and bands based in places other than the capital.
He concludes this discussion by emphasizing on the need to think more critically about the quality of music produced in today’s Iran, without victimizing the artists and exotifying their work only because of the limitations they face. In his opinion, speaking about censorship alone and idealizing young musicians’ work only because they have to remain underground would not help young musicians inside Iran to appropriately evaluate and improve the quality of their music. He believes that Iranian musicians also need to have their work critiqued seriously so that, like other emerging musicians around the world, they can learn more and improve their art. He worries that factors such as not having access to professional recording studios in smaller cities and rural areas, and lack of sufficient exposure to international performances, opportunities and standards negatively impact the quality of music in today’s Iran.
Siamak Pourzand Foundation also thanks Ehsan Moghaddasi (art critic and sociologist) and Pooya Jahandar (social media expert) for their contributions to the production of this podcast series.