In 1978 I was to travel back to the States from India via the overland route. Also known as the ‘hippie trail’ it was 5000 miles by local bus across Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. The trail was a right of passage of sorts, something I’d been looking forward to for many years, ever since my eldest brother had done the trip in 1970.
In the months previous I had read quite a bit about Iran, a country which I reckoned was pretty sophisticated. My brother had raved on about Isfahan which he claimed was absolutely spectacular and it was Iran that I was most looking forward to exploring.
But alas, I feel sick a few weeks before I was to catch the bus to the Pakistani border and my family insisted I fly back to Minnesota. As Fate would have it, back in the States, my housemate in a cheap boarding house in Dinkytown, turned out to be an Iranian named Navid. By hanging out with him and his friends, I got a very different insight into Iran, especially the depth of the hatred in which the Shah of Iran was held by many of his subjects.
I have always regretted that I was unable to visit Iran before the Islamic revolution but consider myself privileged to have been included in the heated and passionate debates of a circle of politically minded Iranian expatriates in the year that led up to the fall of the Shah. Throughout those months, Navid and I discovered we shared a great love of music, even though he always looked upon this part of our friendship as one in which he was most definitely the teacher and I the student. Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, Gordon Giltrap and Jethro Tull were his heroes and he never tired of recommending their alleged genius to me. Interestingly, throughout the many years of our friendship, which had us attending each other’s weddings, sharing houses, sharing jobs, fighting, falling out and making up several times, Navid never mentioned or recommended to me any Iranian music.
I’ve lost touch with Navid now. His friendship will be one of the most important to me, and I miss him. My knowledge of Iran continued though. I worked with Iranian religious and political refugees for some years and developed several more close relationships with Iranians of many political persuasions. And whatever little I learned about Iran’s modern music scene was focused on the classical and semi-classical tradition. Based on the information I got from these friends it would have been safe to conclude that during the Shah’s reign urban young people listened to western pop music and after the Revolution ran the risk of being arrested for doing the same. Such a thing as Iranian pop music didn’t exist.
In recent years there has been a veritable, if minor, flood of records dedicated to highlighting the Iranian pop music scene B.K. (Before Khomeni), that proves how naïve my impression was. Not only was there an indigenous pop music scene but it was active on TV variety shows, records and radio. The decade between the late 1960s and 1979 when history took one of its violent turns is referred to by lonely hearts of the Persian diaspora as ‘the golden age of Farsipop’. Indeed, the many records of Iranian pop music of this period are in some ways weapons in the cultural-political wars of the diaspora. The artists, some of whom were indeed murdered by post-revolutionary authorities, the music they made and the liberal secular urban elites that consumed it are all mourned as martyrs of Injustice. Given that Navid and almost all my other Iranian friends were on the anti-Shah (but not necessarily pro-mullah) side of the tumult of 1979, it is, in retrospect, not a surprise at all that they made no mention of this scene. It was the very thing that made them cringe; the distilled essence of cultural servitude.
Thankfully, many years have passed. Passions about the merits of the Shah are irrelevant to all except nostalgic expatriates in Los Angeles and Paris. Farsipop can be assessed and enjoyed on its merits, as music, not as a weapon or symbol.
Today the Washerman’s Dog presents Khana Khana! a recent compilation of pre-revolutionary pop music. And I like it. Like Indian pop or African pop or any other such genre, it is fun music. Music made by men and women who wanted to find fresh ways to make sense of their fast changing countries, societies and traditions. It is the wild, irreverent eclecticism of the sound that make most of these gems shine and here too. Swelling swings, latin trumpets and pumping disco slap bass mix with Kinks riff rip-offs and 60s Brit invasion garage drumming. English lyrics pop through the mix from time to time but mostly this crazed musical melange is overlaid with smooth Farsi crooning.
Following the footsteps of the celebrated “Zendooni,” here comes another comp dedicated to the Persian pop scene of the 70s. And what a comp! Exotic psych, funk and pop doesn’t get better than this. We offer you a 19 track selection culled from rare vinyl pressings and cassettes which have miracously survived until now. East meets West in an explosive way…wait till you hear fuzz bombs like “Woman” by Shahram and “Baanoye Sahar Aavaaz” by Soli, awesome sitar funk by Neli ready to burn any dancefloor; Famous Persian pop star Dariush appears with a powerful instrumental funk number, “Nefrin Nameh”. Dig the processed flute and heavy drum breaks of “Bia Bare Safar Bandim” by Mohammed Noori. Catchy psych-pop by Amir Rassaie. (http://lightintheattic.net/releases/766-khana-khana-funk-psychedelia-and-pop-from-the-iranian-pre-revolution-generation-vol-2)
So with great respect to all my great Iranian friends beginning with Navid I commend to your ears and hearts, this very cool collection of Shah era pop music.
01 Ki Bood (Who)
02 Baanoye Sahar Aavaaz (Lady of Song)
03 Jodayee (Separation)
04 Be Omidat Mimoonam (To Stand Your Hope)
05 Nefrim Nameh (Curse of the Letter)
06 Dokhtar Khoshgel (Beautiful Daughter)
07 Gharibaneh (As a Stranger)
08 Moondam Az Boodanet (Keep from Being)
09 Khana Khana (House House)
10 Hamvelayate Eshgh (I Love the Provincial)
11 Do Ta Cheshmoon (Two Eyes)
12 Kavire Del (Desert Hearts)
13 Bia Bare Safar Bandim (Come Time to Travel)
15 Payam (Message)
17 Aloonak (The Hut)
18 Aay Dokhtar (Dark Daughter)
19 Shaadi (Life)