Friday, June 9, 2017

My Persian Soundtrack

After catching Nahange Anbar 2 last week (the comedy that taps into a great deal of Iranian nostalgia), I headed to the shop next door to, at long last, buy some much overdue and greatly needed CDs. Even though MP3s get passed around, it was nice to be in a store and actually buy CDs again. 

Growing up, my only exposure to Iranian music was through my parents' playlist. I grew up listening to the likes of Googoosh, Vigen, Ebi, Mahasti, Haydeh, and others because that was what my parents listened to. In fact, I can say with confidence that other Iranian-Americans of my generation (and even Iranians of younger generations) had the same experience. For us, these singers represent nostalgia. Most Saturday mornings, I'd wake up to Googoosh's voice. One week, my eyes would pop open as she sang the refrain, khodâyâ, khodâyâ, kaviram, kaviram! The next week, I'd catch her at the line gharibe âshenâ, dooset dâram biyâ

Basically I listened to Iranian music because my parents were playing it at home or in the car or because it was playing at a mehmoonigathering, or Nowruz party. My friends and I always expected to hear it at such events and liked it, but never voluntarily listened to it. There were beloved Iranian artists from LA like Andy, Black Cats, Siavash, and Mansour who were always fun to listen to, but again, just at a gathering. We took ourselves way too seriously listening to Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, and Pearl Jam.

When I started this blog, it was a way for me to explore my Persian heritage, sometimes picking it apart into pieces. I remember the day a co-worker came in and asked if I had seen Ali Azimi's Pishdaramad video. We watched it together, and I immediately included it on my blog. This was way different from my parents' music or anything coming out of LA. This was coming straight out of the motherland, and it had come a long way.

When the TV series Shahgoosh came out (and if you follow my blog, you know I was obsessed with it), I heard Ali Zand Vakili's Zohreh, which played in the closing credits, and I absolutely loved his voice and traditional style. 

Then I eventually made my way to Iran, and the first concert I went to was Alireza Ghorbani, a traditional vocalist. I wasn't familiar with him, but the instant he opened his mouth, I was blown away. And even though the lyrics were too deep for me to get, music has a way of transcending any language barrier. 

Soon after, the young pop singer Morteza Pashaei passed away. His songs were not only playing everywhere at the time (and still are), but they were also ringtones. The one song from him that I continue to hear in taxis is this one:

Nowruz 2015 came around and I went to Divan, the uber posh restaurant in Tehran's Sam Center. The Jordy Design handbag with the Paykan emblem was calling out to me, and I decided that I absolutely needed it. With my purchase came a Nowruz mix CD compliments of Divan. While all the songs were awesome, I had these on repeat: Zacon's Aha Bogoo, which is a modern cover of a traditional song from the northern Gilan province. 

And Iranian-German singer Sogand's, Delom 

And this song which I loved but didn't know who the singer was. I later found out it was the fusion band Chaartaar who I had heard so much about. 

Around this time, the series Shahrzad was everyone's addiction. I say with great shame that I'm still only at the beginning, but I plan to finish in time for the second season. Mohsen Chavoshi sang many of the tracks, but this was my favorite.

I was introduced to Dang Show when my cousin bought the CD. With its mix of percussion and traditional vocals, the first song was so awesome, we had a hard time getting to the end of the album.

Pop group Seven's Dooset Daram, I love you, is another one we played often during our excursions. 

For my birthday one year, we were driving to the Caspian Sea through Chalus Road, arguably the most famous, beautiful, and often dangerous road to the north of Iran. We were driving through a particularly narrow stretch with a dam on one side and cliffs on the other. I had leaned my head back and was looking up at the towering and somewhat terrifying rocky mountains through the open sunroof while Kako Band's Dance in Fire was playing. There was something about this rough, edgy song that perfectly matched the scenery. To this day, I think of that stretch whenever I hear this song. 

A few months later, I was on a bus headed toward the ancient village of Abyaneh, famous for its red-hued adobe houses. After about three hours driving through dry desert, we took the exit and were greeted with green valleys and beautiful nature. The driver was playing London-based Ajam's Zoghalchi, and it was once again the perfect soundtrack for our entrance. 

Then Hojat Ashrafzadeh came on the scene with Mah o Mahi, the heartbreakingly beautiful hit that you just couldn't escape in Iran.

Then came my second concert- traditional/pop singer Alireza Assar. I knew his name and a couple of songs, but my cousin had been waiting years to see him and bought me a ticket whether or not I liked it. I did. 

Out of nowhere (at least for me) came Hamed Homayoun with Chatre Khis. You couldn't go anywhere without hearing this one, and it was one of those songs that I had to learn so I could belt it out with friends when it came on (especially at the part when he says bah bah). It took me back to my days in Madrid when my roommates and I memorized David Bisbal's Ave Maria and Llorare las Penas so that we could sing them at the top of our lungs with the Madrileños when we went out (I just totally aged myself).

I like the fact that I can always recognize Hamed Homayoun not so much because of his voice, but more because of his pronunciation. The way he says â comes out sounding more like âw. (Notice: great isn't âli, but âwli. God isn't khodâ, but khodâw.) Once when I was sitting in a Snapp (Iran's answer to Uber), the driver was playing the CD and I realized his whole album is pretty darn catchy.

Asghar Farhadi's Oscar-winning The Salesman introduced me to Mehrdad Mehdi, the amazing accordionist whose piece plays at the end of the movie. His album Tehran Waltzes is very reminiscent of the Amelie soundtrack, perhaps my favorite ever. I have high hopes of catching him performing in the streets of Tehran one day. 

My friend had the album Tehran, Smile!, but I never paid much attention to it thinking it was a mixed CD or something. Then somehow I realized it's the band Pallett, whose song Naro Beman was also on my Divan Nowruz mix, only I didn't know it. I absolutely love their style and unorthodox mix of instruments, but it's especially this song that gets me every time.

The latest to my list is Hani Niroo whose modern music meets classic songs with a twist of minimalism. 

Which brings us back to my visit to the CD store where I added Pallett, Ali Zand Vakili, Kako Band, Chaartaar, and Mehrdad Mehdi to my collection. I am now voluntarily listening to Iranian music. Not at a mehmooni, not at a Nowruz party, not because my parents are listening to it. But because I actually want to. 

In the now three years (gasp!) that I've been in Tehran, I see that homegrown music has come a long way. It took me back to the late 80s and early 90s when in the weeks leading up to our summer visits to Iran, I would slave over creating the perfect mixed tapes to take. My hard work would culminate into the ultimate selection of Def Leopard, Bon Jovi, Madonna, and Pet Shop Boys to ensure sure that the music coming out of our car was the coolest. Because in those days, it was all about western music, and in any car or taxi that you sat in, you heard English lyrics. I remember once when my sister was mouthing the words to the Madonna song playing in the taxi and my mom nudged her to stop. Maybe it's just my memory, maybe I wasn't aware because I was so young, or maybe there were more limitations back then, I don't know. But whatever the reason, I just don't remember hearing much Iranian music at that time.

It was some time in the late 90s and early 2000s when Iranians singers started to appear again. Pop singer Benjamin was all the rage with his song Loknat, Stutter. We'd blast it at home and dance to it, and in the streets, it was blaring out of cars. That was also the time I learned about Mohsen Chavoshi and his unique, raspy rock sound. And it was since about this time that on each trip to Iran, I heard less and less western music and more and more Iranian music- some from inside Iran, others from outside. 

These days, though, when I sit in a taxi or friend's car, all I hear is Iranian music. Which is not to say that there's no western music, because there is. But I can say that I just don't hear it like I used to. Every time my neighbor turns up the volume on his stereo (and it's often) it's always music from inside Iran which makes me quite happy because it's with good reason. Iranians are super artsy, creative, and talented! And I'm thrilled that they aren't so focused on western music anymore. Because if you ask me, it's about time the west started listening to what's coming out of Iran!



  1. You're right, does transcend language. We're so lucky!
    Thanks for the new post and the fresh introductions to so many unfamiliar (to me) artists. I've started a listening list to follow. Have you ever heard the group Avaaye Diaar? All instrumental pieces but lovely. Best!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I haven't heard of them, but I'll definitely check them out. Thanks for the tip :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...