Music has become political as Iranians turn to alternative outlets to express their frustration at the leaders of their government. Avid fans of blocked music have found ways to maneuver around government censors to download the “resistance music” the Islamic regime has so doggedly tried to silence.
Rap, folk, and classical music artists have all come together to give rise to a varied and dynamic underground music scene which has grown rapidly in the wake of the 2009 election in Iran. The lyrics of dissent have caught the attention of a wide public audience, speaking to the young and old alike. As street demonstrations and open rebellion have been repressed, music has become a subtle but powerful form of protest according to Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian studies at Standford University.
The lyrics to one such song by traditional artist Mohammad Reza Shajarian titled “Language of Fire,” are pointed and powerful, making it an overnight hit:
Lay down your gun/ As I hate this very abnormal shedding of blod/The gun in your hand speaks the language of fire and iron/But I, before this fiendish tool/Have nothing but, the language of the heart/ The heart full to the brim with love for you/Who are in love with the enemy.
Unsurprisingly, the music has come under the ever-watchful government eye in Iran. Some artists like Persian classical musician Shahram Nazeri have paid a steep price for artistic freedom. Nazeri was held in custody and threatened after his release of an anti government song, “We Are Not Dirt or Dust.” His song was a response to President Ahmadinejad’s dismissal of protesters as “dirt and dust” in the aftermath of the demonstrations following the disputed presidential election last year.
Artists like rapper Shahin Najafi and folk artist Mohsen Namjoo have found themselves homeless. Najafi now lives in Cologne, Germany and faces three years in prison and one hundred lashes should he choose to return to his native country. As Namjoo, who now lives in Palo Alto, California, told New York times reporter Nazila Fathi, “you have to constantly live with fear.”
However, there have been victories. When broadcasters tried to play Shajarian’s music as part of a government propaganda campaign, he proclaimed himself the voice of dirt and dust. He stood up to the state-controlled media and threatened to sue broadcasters if they continued. In the end, the voice of dirt and dust triumphed and broadcasters backed off.