Soundtrack of the Revolution
The Politics of Music in Iran
Nahid Siamdoust


Contents and Abstracts
1 The Politics of Music
chapter abstract

This chapter provides the historical and political context for an understanding of the issue of music in post-revolutionary Iran. It narrates the process of the Islamization of Iranian politics after the revolution and the problematic of music within Islamic tradition, and posits music as an alternative public sphere. It also provides short overviews of the history of Persian music, music education in Iran, as well as government regulations on music and female musicians, in particular.

2 The Nightingale Rebels
chapter abstract

Chapter Two offers insight into the status of music in the immediate years before the revolution and goes on to highlight the trajectory of Iran's preeminent vocalist of Persian classical music, Mohammad Reza Shajarian. It delves into discussions about Persian art music versus popular music, pop music in Shah-era Iran, evolving forms of poetic protest in twentieth-century Iran, and the important role of radio both for Persian classical music as well as for the making of Shajarian.

3 The Musical Guide: Mohammad Reza Shajarian
chapter abstract

This chapter follows Mohammad Reza Shajarian's trajectory from a "revolutionary" singer and one of the most prominent voices of the Chavosh group—at the onset of the 1979 revolution—to a vocalist whose "popular" politics are increasingly at odds with those of the new state. It provides the necessary background for an understanding of evolutions in state policy and media technology before returning to a closer look at Shajarian's carefully charted repertoire of resistance. As he breaks into open opposition to state policy following the 2009 Green Uprising, he is increasingly portrayed as a lowly entertainer and traitor by hardline state media.

4 Revolution and Ruptures
chapter abstract

Chapter Four examines the approach of the new state and its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to music, and to cultural policymaking more generally. Initially Khomeini had pronounced music forbidden, but what did he mean by "music," and how did "music" come to be permitted eventually? What Islamic traditions have Islamic Republic officials abided by for their understanding of music's permissibility? This chapter also examines the musical fare on state media during the revolution's first decade, and provides an in-depth look at the official structures that regulate music in the Islamic Republic.

5 Opening the Floodgates to Pop Music: Alireza Assar
chapter abstract

This chapter tells the as yet untold story of the creation of state-approved pop music in Islamic Iran, as shared by the officials and musicians at the center of its making. Pop music, once banned because the new state perceived it as representing the cultural promiscuity of Shah-era Iran, was greenlighted and broadcast from within conservative state media toward the end of the 1990s, following President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's reconstruction period. This chapter presents the musicians that spearheaded this process. It highlights the work of one of the most popular stars among post-revolutionary Iran's first generation of pop singers, Alireza Assar, and argues that his projection of an alternative religiosity in contradistinction to the state's dogmatic Islam attracted Iran's post-1980–88 war youth.

6 The Rebirth of Independent Music
chapter abstract

Chapter Six examines the rebirth of independent music in post-revolutionary Iran, which flourished during the terms of reformist President Mohammad Khatami and his government's more liberal music policy. The chapter narrates the beginnings of rock and fusion music starting in the late 1980s and onward to Iran's "first" semi-public underground rock concert, as well as the importance of the webzine Tehranavenue in bringing to light Iran's active underground music scene. The chapter follows the trajectory of the musician Mohsen Namjoo in delineating these processes.

7 Purposefully Fālsh: Mohsen Namjoo
chapter abstract

This chapter is a study of the coming of age of the alternative musician Mohsen Namjoo, and his struggles to emerge as a musician under politically repressive circumstances. It narrates his cultivation of a discourse of absurdist nihilism, which finds great resonance with a community of post-ideological cynics, as well as his rhetorical and musical iconoclasm. It traces his arc from a student struggling to make it as a musician in Iran to his emigration and self-stated decision to break his "self-censorship" following the 2009 unrest.

8 Going Underground
chapter abstract

Chapter Eight proceeds in the book's chronological treatment of music in post-revolutionary Iran to discuss the changes in cultural policy from the more liberal government of Mohammad Khatami to that of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This transition coincided with a period of great technological transformation around 2005, when the impact of new media was changing the face of music production, distribution, and consumption in Iran. It then goes on to describe discussions of the category of underground music, how it is defined and categorized internally, and the government's reckoning with this new reality.

9 Rap-e Farsi: Hichkas
chapter abstract

This chapter delves deeper into the underground music scene by foregrounding one of its best-known performers, Soroush Lashkary, aka Hichkas. It discusses categorizations of Rap-e Farsi and the coming of age of Hichkas, the "Godfather of Rap-e Farsi," from a middle-class kid in Tehran to a household name. The chapter also analyzes the generational differences between Namjoo and Hichkas, and how these differences are reflected in their music. It further explores the music of Hichkas, which draws on an old Iranian honor ethic to find traction with its listeners.

10 The Music of Politics
chapter abstract

Chapter Ten narrates developments in music during the 2009 Green Uprising, and draws comparisons to musical trajectories at the time of the 1979 revolution, as discussed in Chapters One and Two. It also discusses the election of President Hassan Rouhani as a continuation of the political sentiments of the Green Movement, and proceeds to narrate more recent musical developments. The chapter then offers some conclusions on the bigger questions in the book about expressions of joy, freedom, and political repression.