[14 June 2012]
The Islamic Republic of Iran, and the wider Middle East, is an oft maligned and perhaps misunderstood region. This is not to decry or attempt to ignore the disgraceful, inhumane and state sponsored violence that is currently afflicting Syria as the west flexes its rather puny muscles (no war on terror here?) or the shameful breaches of human rights and the ongoing tit for tat over Iran’s desire to procure and develop nuclear weapons (here’s a thought, why don’t we all just get rid of them?). But the fact remains; the Middle East is one of the cradles of civilization, rich in history and cultural heritage. By all accounts, Iran is a simply beautiful country and its peoples some of the friendliest and most welcoming in the world. Certainly this statement has been borne out by the Iranians I’ve been lucky to encounter.
Recent history, and in particular that pertaining to popular culture, has tended to be written out of Iran’s history following the revolution of 1979 which ushered in the current Islamic Republic of Iran. Subsequently our knowledge and understanding of Iran’s popular music and its musicians is unreliable to say the least. Before the revolution though, Iran had an active, and by the sounds of the music on Vampisoul’s new lp Rangarang: Pre-Revolutionary Iranian Pop incredibly varied and at times intensely funky music scene. With the revolution came an almost immediate clampdown on a whole range of popular culture activities. Music included. This resulted in record labels being forced to close and musicians either upholding a vow of silence or leaving the country altogether.
Thankfully, Vampisoul have yet again got out their metaphorical spades in order to dig deep and unearth a treasure trove of amazing, historically and culturally important music, now, thankfully, safely residing over a two cd or triple vinyl release.
So what can you expect to hear on this archeological discovery?
There is such a melting pot of influences on this album you would be hard pressed to categorise or pinpoint one dominant style. There are western traces such as on the wah wah funk of Leila Forouhar’s “Moama” delivered in a clearly identifiable middle eastern vocal, which is followed immediately by Afshin Moghaddam’s “Gharibooneh” an easy listening take on The Crystal’s “Then I Kissed Her”, it’s an utterly fantastic track (poor Afshin, it turns out, was killed in a road accident at the age of 31).
Then there is the Indian acid-folk-psychedelic track “Shareh Paiz” by Pooran, the plaintive voice of Kourosh Yaghmaei on “Khaar” a 60’s proto-prog song (Yaghmaei was one of the few musicians to stay in Iran after the revolution where he was prohibited from making or performing music for seventeen years).
Arguably, the musical superstar of pre-revolutionary Iran was/is Googoosh. “Age Bemooni” is a slow jazzy, filmic, track with Googoosh’s dreamy, yet yearning voice transporting you to a bar in 1960s Tehran, where the clientele are gently inhaling from a variety of hookas. Googoosh would go on to appear on hundreds of songs and in over twenty movies and dueted with Tina Turner.
Not long after the revolution, Googoosh returned to Iran following an international tour and was promptly imprisoned and her passport was confiscated. It would be twenty years before she escaped Iran; she now resides in America where she is still revered to this day.
Other highlights are Ahmad Zahir’s “Tang Ast Dilam” a definite Indian 60’s, Ananda Shankar type vibe going on here. Known as the Afghan Elvis, Ahmed was assented on his 33rd birthday in 1979. And then we have Simin Ghanem with “Abre Payizi”. She could so easily have been on the Velvet’s album instead of Nico!
This album, and as is always the case with Vampisoul, the liner notes, is full of surprises and revelations. It is hard to do justice to the sheer variety of music contained on this release. Not only is it bewitching in the quality of music, but the sense that this music was, and has, and indeed is still is, repressed, heightens the listening experience. You do find yourself reconciling the carefree, and mostly upbeat music, with modern day Iran and the difficulties faced by artists of all disciplines in being able to express themselves as they want to (search the nether world of the internet and such expression can still be found).
This album is as much a reminder of the cultural importance that music plays in our lives, and the effect it can have for individuals and communities, with both good and bad consequences, and this makes Vampisoul one of the one most important labels currently in operation.
Artists and label alike deserve our respect and attention.