Persians have long upheld the study of music theory and musicology as well as performance. One of the earliest musicologists known in Iran is Barbad who is known to have created seven royal modes, 30 derived modes, and around 360 melodies. (These numbers coordinated with the calendar at the time.) Dastgah is a type of music characterized by haute culture and generally popular among the elite. There were some early religious music, such as in Sufi music, but most Muslims didn’t consider recitations as music. Musical theatre and opera actually existed earlier than that of Europe.
Folk songs leant itself to situational settings: weddings, lullabies, work songs, harvest songs, etc. There are a variety of instruments used, but they can vary from region to region. However, there are a few instruments that are commonly used throughout the land: ney (a type of flute), dohol (a double-headed drum), and surney (a type of shawm, or woodwind instrument resembling an oboe). Music across the Persian regions, such as Khorasan, Kurdistan, Turkmenistan, and Mazandaran utilize different musical textures, instruments and instrumentation, and musical styles and techniques.
Like music, folk dance also varies from region to region. There are several different types of dances for different situations and genres, such as chain dances, war dances, solo dances, and religious/spiritual dances. There are some dances that are danced with pairs, some for men, and some for women. Some dances include props such as sticks or swords; some dances are graceful while others are quick. Probably one of the most common types of dance people are familiar with is belly dance. It’s somewhat unknown where exactly belly dancing originated from, but it’s very much a widespread style across the Middle East, the Levant, and northern Africa.
Persians also had a huge stake in classical and symphonic music, which didn’t really get its start until the 20th century. Classically trained vocalists utilize different patterns and techniques as compared to Western music, and in a sense is closer to that of Indian music. Women were subjugated to only being able to perform as soloists for other women or mixed groups. They also perform as instrumentalists or in choirs. Many female singers left the country in order to perform freely. There were also many Iranian composers who combined traditional Persian techniques with Western styles.
When it comes to popular music and what’s out there now, Iranian musicians enter into a myriad of musical styles. From rock to rap, I have discovered a ton of groups/musicians that I really like. And to be honest, I was fairly impressed. Because of censorship issues, many Iranian musicians, artists, and writers have fled the country throughout the past few decades to work abroad.
I found several bands that fell into the rock and pop category. One band called 127 had quite almost a 1920s jazz sound to it. They heavily relied on the piano, which I’m a huge fan of in music. I liked what I heard from the band Hypernova. I thought they were very well put together musically. Although the lead singer reminds me of an Iranian version of the Crash Test Dummies. One thing that sets them apart is that they almost exclusively sing in English. I listened to Mohsen Namjoo’s album Trust the Tangerine Peel. Making use of the acoustic guitar and a very rhythmic vocal line that often appears almost whispered at times, it creates a very unique sound. The band Kiosk definitely has a folk sound to it, and a few songs almost have a Jewish klezmer band sound.
There were also a surprising number of rap artists from Iran who I listened to as well. One that I enjoyed was Erfan. His songs utilize strings and piano but also mixes in some traditional instruments on top of your basic hip-hop drum beats and instrumentations and styles. I thought his songs were pretty well put together and offered variation in the styles of his songs. One artist who I enjoyed listening to was Hichkas. He also made use of traditional instruments in his songs, and I’ve noticed that many of his songs start out with a minimal motif and then fills out the instrumental part as the vocal lines come in and generally has a lot of energy in the songs. I’m always a huge fan of female rappers, and Iran has one that I came across: Salome MC. While she mostly raps in Persian, there is one song (“Salome’s Tale”) that is in English, and it only confirms that rap and hip-hop is a catalyst for dealing with social issues, no matter where you live. I have to give her dap for doing it knowing what environment she’s producing this in.
Iran is also on the map when it comes to electronica, house, and trance music. This is personally a favorite genre of mine, and especially to my husband who was among the first house DJs in Chicago when it first got its start. One duo I discovered is Deep Dish, who is actually based in Washington, D.C. They definitely have an old school Chicago house sound, and I absolutely love the album Junk Science. In fact, my husband is making me buy it so he can have a copy. It’s the perfect album to listen to while you are chilling or trying to work (which I’ve listened to many times this week while working). DJ Aligator is another artist I listened to quite a few times this week. His style is a little more hard core club house. I love it. It makes me feel like we should be jumping around the living room losing our minds. (That may or may not have actually happened.) Arsi Nami’s music is more or less EDM/dance track sounds to what could be pop songs (although one song I listened to is an old Latin song and one is an extremely old Italian art song, as in I sang it in voice lessons). I kind of liked it, too. I really enjoyed Omid 16B. It almost seemed like a cross between minimal house and trance at times. What I enjoyed was that it didn’t seem like the same old house beats and instruments; different percussion instruments were brought in, and it really changed the dynamic of the songs. Masoud is another artist that seems to be deeply in the trance sound. I’m a huge trance fan, so I enjoyed his tracks.
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