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Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Silenced Nightingales: Women, Culture and Music in Modern Iran - Page 2

Written by Ai Watanabe
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I walked into a dark, cramped musical instrument shop beneath a shopping mall and was greeted by a slight, skinny man with braces on his teeth. After exchanging cordial greetings and making small talk, he offered me a seat on the drum beside him. Then, wordlessly, he reached for his satar, a four-stringed lute, which he started playing very gently.

Governmental regulation on the performance or recording of music was intolerant to all, but especially to women. New laws declared women singing solo in public to be illegal, and the recordings of female vocalists were banned. Female performance, even instrumentally, was frowned upon. Allowances were eventually made for women to sing in choral groups with more than two female voices, which apparently would be less likely than a solo female voice to incite irreligious sentiments.

Governmental reluctance to approve public musical performances and the prohibition of unofficial ones had forced many musicians to hold private or underground concerts, in the relative security of family homes and also abroad.

Additionally, the presence of female musicians’ recordings on record store shelves was officially non-existent, creating a conspicuous gap in the musical history of the country. However, these recordings could be heard on the car stereo of any given taxi driver, on the computer of a teenager, or on the music video stations of widely available, but illegal, satellite televisions. Despite official deterrents, a lively black market exchange of female vocalist recordings attests to the continued adoration of these artists.

When the music teacher stepped out for a moment and only ladies were in the room, several women whipped off their headscarves and shook their hair out just to take advantage of the break. The summer heat was cooking us in our black polyester scarves and long coats, but still we sat in a tiny basement room with all the windows and doors closed. I wondered if it was this hot for everyone, or if one adjusts to the heat and heavy clothing after twenty-some years.

The ladies explained to me just how dangerous meeting like this was for them, and that because the sound can be heard even from outside, their teacher was fortunate to have sympathetic neighbors who wouldn’t report him to the police. The city in which we lived had a reputation for being more conservative than other cities, and violations of government policy could be punished by harassment, fines and imprisonment. However, aware of the risk, they had a burning in their hearts for the music and for the opportunity to express their feelings and frustrations, while perpetuating their cultural traditions.


(Page 2 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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