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Part 1: With street demonstrations in Iran effectively crushed, a desire for change is now expressed in music.
All men in Iran must serve nearly two years in the country’s military and are not eligible to have passports until they have completed this compulsory service.
While playing live shows in Iran is a rarity, the opportunity is one that these acts cherish regardless of the obstacles they face, and in fact sometimes because of them.
“Once we were playing at a cafe, and it turned out it was one of the days that they were bringing martyrs back (remains of soldiers killed in Iraq war,)” Omrani said. “We were in the middle of a song and someone told us, ‘turn it off, turn it off!’ So we did. And all of a sudden there was total silence. Just then we saw the turbans of a couple of mullahs passing by, once they were gone we just picked up in the middle of the song. It was great!”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made playing modern forms of popular music more difficult in recent years, but harmonica player Mani Mozakka, who still wears a green ribbon around his wrist to show his personal support for last year’s protest movement says, “When a door closes, people open up another path. We’ll always find a way to keep doing what we do.”
This attitude is taking root in Tehran and it appears as though a growing number of musicians are choosing this less traveled path.
“I used to think if I leave Iran and go to live in some other country, I’d be really successful and I would find a way to do what I want to do,” Afsharian said. “But I changed my mind. You know, I found that I’m always inspired by Iran.”
The reflections offered by bands in Iran run counter to the now accepted story of Iranian underground music, as delivered by Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi’s 2009 film “No one knows about Persian Cats,” which introduced global audiences to Tehran’s underground music scene.
The film paints a vivid picture of young musicians in the Iranian capital struggling to produce their art, constantly searching for reliable places to record, but ultimately failing to do so, instead hopelessly looking for escapes to Western countries, where presumably they would be free to perform.
Such themes work well with long-standing perceptions of Iran as an impossibly intolerant society, but to artists still working inside the Islamic Republic, the victimization does them no justice.
“We don’t have it as bad as the characters in that film,” Jabbari said. “We do this for the sake of music, and for that we went through some hardships, and we’d like more people to know about it.”