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Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Silenced Nightingales: Women, Culture and Music in Modern Iran - Page 3

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.

A Song for My Country, ‘Los Angeles’

Before I had to leave, a young woman sitting in the corner wearing a gold headscarf declared that she wanted to sing me a song, because she loves my country, ‘Los Angeles.’ She sang a sweet song - rich and emphatic - a sentimental piece made famous by a 1960s pop star. In the mood of the song, she gestured dramatically and touched her heart.

As we walked out the door she gushingly told me how much she loved my country, Los Angeles, and how badly she wanted to go there and marry someone to get out of Iran. I explained to her that life in America is not easy either. Work is hard, hours are long, and there are no four-hour lunch breaks. However, for her, my country Los Angeles was a paradisiacal golden land that she idealized, as do so many Iranian youths who have little understanding of American reality beyond satellite television shows like ‘Friends’ or ‘Baywatch.’

She would not be dissuaded, explaining that in Iran, the government is bad to women and controls them; they can do nothing. There is no allowance for women in music and they are heavily restricted. She kept saying, ‘I just want to sing, I just want to sing.’ In the car, she sang and sang, as if she were auditioning for a ticket out.

When we drove by police cars, she sang softly so that we would not to be stopped, and when she stopped the car in front of my music school, she finished her song. Kissing me and giving me a warm hug, she sent me off to my music lesson. After the singing lesson and the car ride, the normal hum of life on the street seemed conspicuously dull and silent.

Music Under the Bridge

In Iran, musical vivacity is not immediately perceptible. Musical expression, like many aspects of modern Iranian culture, takes place primarily behind closed doors, or less freely in officially-approved and proctored events. However, if one lingers a bit and looks around carefully, just below the surface a vibrant musical culture is alive and bubbling.

IranThe city of Esfahan is famed for the beautiful, clear-watered Zayende River which cuts through the city and is crossed by a number of historical bridges. In the late afternoon, when the sun was unbearably hot, my friends and I often took refuge in the shade while other families rested under trees in the grass or strolled by the water’s cool edge. On the breezeway below the bridge small groups would form, mostly men lingering and talking. Then slowly, slowly, the singing began. Each singer made his own choice of poetry from the rich body of Persian literature, singing verses of poets such as Rumi, Hafez or Sa’di. In the cavernous echoes of the bridge’s arches, one after another, the men sang classical songs, popular songs, folkloric songs, for each other and for themselves.Iran

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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