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TEHRAN, Iran—The sound of the Iranian revolution can be heard on the headsets worn by young people all across the country. They’re listening to a wide variety of underground music produced by bands and individuals who have no commercial recording deals and no access to professional recording studios. The music is distributed almost exclusively through the Internet.

The most popular styles of music include rap, hip-hop and heavy metal, and can be heard in almost every young Iranian’s bedroom.

Because none of these groups have obtained a required recording license, the distribution of their music is considered illegal.

Some have gained a fanatical following. The latest song by the London-based rap group Zedbazi has been downloaded more than 8 million times. Almost all of the music is available for free.

Then there is 127, a Tehran-based group whose Web site describes the band’s music as a melding of “Iranian melodies and jazz with an alternative sound.”

Point of Death is a heavy metal band from the Shia holy city of Mashhad; Mirza is a blues band from Tehran; Pedram Derakhshani and Saeed Shanbeh-Zadeh, from the south of the country, mix rock and disco.

A number of female artists have also made it big in the underground music scene, including Salome, Pani and Mana and Ghowgha. Some performers insist their involvement in the underground music world is non-political.

Kami, a rapper based in Tehran, says he is only interested in music, not politics. But even he conceded that the life of an underground artist in Iran isn’t easy.

“Everything is difficult,” he said. “I can’t come out in public and enjoy my fame. I’m sometimes afraid I’ll be arrested.”

Mohsen Namjoo is probably the best underground artist, with his unique blend of mystical Sufi music and Western rock and blues. The government initially refused to give him a license to perform, contending that his music was political. But because of Namjoo’s enormous popularity, the government’s Arts Council eventually relented and agreed to distribute one of his albums. Of course, it contained none of the protest songs that he is best known for.

Earlier this year, it appeared that the government was intent on launching a full-scale assault on underground music. It placed filters on a number of music Web sites and shut down three studios known to be used by underground artists. A number of performers were detained by the police.

After a few months, however, the government seemed to have a change of heart. The filters were removed and the artists were released.

Some think the government may have finally come to accept that underground music is a fact of life and efforts to prevent it will only become another source of dissent.

“The scale of the underground music movement and its complete independence from the establishment has reached a point where the government has no choice but to accept it,” said one artist. “Were it not to do so, underground music would become more political and critical of the authorities.”


Kamyar Bashari is a journalist and art critic in Tehran who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

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