Iran: Music Is Hard, The Truth Is Harder

I met Iranian musician and dancer Said Shanbehzadeh last year at WOMEX, the World Music Expo that is held annually in a designated European city. In 2007, WOMEX was in Seville (it’ll be there too this year). The performance by Said’s Shanbehzadeh Ensemble was captivating. They put on a show of raw almost-African percussion, light but energetic footwork typical, and hypnotic drones from the Iran bagpipe, the neyanban. On stage were Said and two other generations of Iranian musicians from Bushehr, a city in southwestern Iran on the Persian Gulf. Here’s the story that aired on PRI’s The World on March 19, 2008.

As you’ll hear in the story, Said Shanbehzadeh said that he and his group had to leave Iran. Before running with it though, I had to corrorborate what he told me: was it true that the Iranian government was so upset with what they had seen on television of his performance that they told him he couldn’t dance anymore?
Now the backstory: through a number of sources, here is what I learned about a musician who is probably better known outside of Iran in World Music circles than he is back home.
My first source wasn’t much help.

“Hi Marco. You caught me in Beirut (after 10 days in Iran). Unfortunately I am not familiar with this group but the tale sounds eminently plausible.”

My second source was a bit better, but with no details.

“I asked a friend who just saw Shanbehzadeh perform in Paris. He says everything you said is true.”

I then asked this source to clarify.

“My friend says this: It was on a few occasions in Germany and France. The one that happened in Germany was in the fall of 2006. A Modern Music / Arts Organization (or institute?) of Berlin (not sure of the exact name) invited him to perform as part of a 1-week festival dedicated to the Iranian arts. He took off his shirt there and danced. Some women (from his group) also came onto the stage and danced with him. He also danced in the same way in France. And about 2 weeks ago he did again (during a performance in Normandy), this time in just a pair of shorts, apparently. My friend (who was there) said he was dancing Spanish style. Women (from his group) came and danced with him again. His son plays the drums for him, my friend says. The problem arose, my friend says, because the performer took his shirt off. He doesn’t think it has much to do with him being from the south of Iran. I have heard of some discrimination in society against darker-skinned Iranians from the south, but I don’t think it is very wide-spread.”

That reply came however after I asked a third source (found in Tehran via the Iranian community in Washington) to assist me. This is what they wrote:

“The story is true and Said is residing in Paris constantly. Even one of his ensemble members (Habib Boushehri) who is in Iran is not allowed anymore to leave the country but it seems that it will be solved soon. But now on Said is still banned. I met him in Spain last October and I myself also saw the program screened on Mezzo Channel. Fact is that they played joke with a Ashoora Ceremony (a Muslim day of mourning) at that certain stage act which made the authorities very angry here.”










Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s