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Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Silenced Nightingales: Women, Culture and Music in Modern Iran - Page 4

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.

The men’s voices were powerful and affected me emotionally. And just as I was about to be taken away by the experience of hearing live singing, the question percolated in my mind, ‘but where are the women’s voices?’ The question jarred my sentimental reverie, and persisted in the back of my mind.


A Rare Event - An All-Ladies Concert

After eight months living in Iran I had my first opportunity to attend a concert featuring a female singer who would be backed up by four female musicians. Events such as this are rarely organized due to the amount of red tape involved, the fickleness of government approval and the difficulties involved in timing a schedule outside of the many Shi’a religious holidays. When the chance came up, my friend and I jumped at the opportunity and set off on an interminable taxi ride through the abysmal traffic that is the bane of life in Iran, to arrive at the concert hall which was inconveniently located on the outskirts of town.

As we arrived at the hall, a line of cars formed outside, all driven by husbands and brothers dropping off their wives, mothers, and sisters. Naturally, the event could only be staffed by women, and on our way in, women wearing black chadors searched us. What they were searching for, we had no idea, but regardless they took it very seriously so we obliged. We were admitted to the hall, and our tickets were checked by ushers who were carefully stationed to guard against men that might want to encroach on the privacy of the ladies’ event.

The hall filled up quickly – not a seat was empty. The program began with a solemn observance of the national anthem, for which everyone dutifully stood, and then a video projector splashed an unexpected film on the wall. For me, it was a surprising and heart-wrenching way to start a concert and certainly not anything I was used to watching at a ‘leisure’ event.

The film was about disabled, crippled and comatose war veterans and the women, mothers and wives who love them. The subject itself was admittedly realistic and pertinent and characteristic of Shi’a ideology, the emphasized themes were grief, sacrifice, and martyrdom. What appeared to me to be a depressing and slightly disturbing introduction to a musical event was perhaps by other standards authentic and un-sugarcoated, and a respectful memorial to the very real life sacrifices of thousands of people who had lived through a brutal war.

With the footage of sobbing women and badly-injured sons fresh on our minds, the artists came on stage. First the quartet of musicians entered, solemn faced and wearing matching head scarves, and then the singer. She was around fifty, composed and meticulously groomed. We all applauded enthusiastically as she began her song.

(Page 4 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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