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A record label bringing Iranian music to the world (huckmag.com)
125 points by tintinnabula 13 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 70 comments

This never seems to be a popular sentiment, but here goes anyway.

A few years ago I spent a month traveling overland in Iran from Astara in the north (we started in Azerbaijan - that’s a story in itself) to Bandar Abbas in the south (and then on to Dubai). What a country. An incredible country - the history, geography and the people. I’ve been lucky enough to have lived in half a dozen countries, and visited around 80. Iran is my favourite.

The historical sites alone are worth several books, and there are many. But the people are what makes a place, and the Iranians are an amazing people. Like everywhere else I’ve traveled people are have relatively simple needs, keep their family safe, be reasonably comfortable and have a laugh and a drink with your friends. In the cities, the moms pickup their kids from school in minivans and drives them to soccer matches. It seems that the majority of folks have (illegal?) sat TV and watch American and European shows. They know what’s going on in the world. Many are (carefully) very critical of their government. They are intelligent and thoughtful debaters. In mosques, churches and even synagogues, people made time for us, patiently answering our western-biased questions without judgement.

There’s obviously a religious element in everyday life, though in our limited time there it didn’t get in the way. We had a run in with the Republican Guard and our friends told us, no jokes, be serious, these guys can cause real headaches. We treated it like a border crossing (be courteous, honest, and only answer exactly what’s asked) and it was no problem. We also met a guy who I suspect was secret police, but as tourists we were treated well and with respect and were invited to his house to have dinner with his family - again for another time.

I’m not a naive traveler, and like to follow the twists and turns of a journey. I’ve not experienced anywhere like Iran and especially the people there. They are the most western of the eastern countries, and many of the folks I spent time with shared many of our values - unlike the current rhetoric from official channels in the US and UK would have you believe.

I recommend going and making your own mind up, and yes, the music was amazing.

I've been wanting to visit Iran ever since I watched this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2LEgowbzSc , where a guy tells the story of him riding a Honda C90 through the country.

My uncle in Iran has a ton of videos and photos from years of doing custom tours throughout the region. In case you really want to take the trip, you might get some good ideas here:


Wow - the bike stuff looks amazing.

The problem with travel - travel begets travel...

I fondly remember watching this video a few years ago, so thank you for posting it. As a two wheel enthusiast myself who hasn't had a chance to explore much of the world, I've been actually wanting to try and see if I could do something similar myself once things hopefully go back to normal.

This guy has a video on India. And as an Indian, it gave me fresh perspective on my own country. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPne-q4ynts

Spoiler alert: not at all positive.

Oh man, that was some video. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks - not seen that. Extra points for the Noel Edmonds!

To anyone who wishes to get a feel for the country, I would highly recommend watching anything by Abbas Kiarostami or Asghar Farhadi. Some are a bit new-wave-ish, but The White Balloon is very approachable and family friendly. And each film often has little nice touches that reveal aspects of the culture, and characters and writing with plenty of depth.

Here's a top 100 Iranian films list which includes five by Kiarostami and one by Farhadi in the top 10:


A Separation is among the best dramas I've ever seen, period. It's been years since I've seen Children of Heaven but I recall very much enjoying it too.

I’m surprised Jafar Panahi’s “[Tehran] Taxi” is not on that list. This is a very unique film (both for Iranian Cinema and in general). Subtly subversive and critical of the regime, I am amazed this passed the censors.

Panahi worked as assistant director for Kiarostami and his earlier work “The White Baloon” (also strangely not on that list) won him international recognition. He has a very fresh eye.

(Tehran) Taxi - Awarded the Golden Bear at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival:


The White Baloon - winner of the Camera d'or at Cannes in 1994:


Both of those are on the list, here it is sorted by name:


You’re right. I did a quick ctl-f at the top and missed them.

I did like A Separation for how it drew you into its ethical dilemmas, and also how it kept the truth hidden from you as much as it was for the main character who acts a witness to the unfolding conflict. I also thought the last scene was a beautiful counterpoint to the heaviness of the film.

Agreed. I was less drawn in by About Elly.

A Moment of Innocence, Close-Up, Where Is My Friend's Home?, and Persepolis are next up on my watch list. A Moment of Innocence is a bit hard to find and seems to be available only on DVD.

I thought A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was pretty entertaining. It was made in the U.S., but by an Iranian-American and its setting is fictional (“Bad City”) with Persian dialog. It has a Jim Jarmusch feel to it.

As an Iranian cinephile, that's a good list. My favourite is probably Persepolis but I'm biased as my coming of age story is very similar to the story's heroine.

Curious: have you found your sentiment to be unpopular here historically? As framed, it seems perfectly reasonable. Plenty of nations full of wonderful people with rich cultures are run by polarizing politicians.

I agree with that. Within a couple of hours of being back in the US, at dinner, folks were disagreeing with me over things I'd seen with my own eyes in the previous week. I've talked about it a lot at events, and there's often a feeling like I'm saying something that goes against the grain, or at least the narrative, and I must be wrong. A handful of folks always hang around and talk in more detail. I love talking to them.

Hi, I think we have similar interests in travel (80 countries, many visits to Iran!).

I lead tours in Iran, you may find this interesting: at the end of each tour, I warn my guests that when they return to their own countries, a large proportion of their friends/families just won't believe any of their Iran stories.

Personally, it took my mother several years to believe me that Iran was safe for tourists. Each time I returned, she would say something like "well, you were lucky because I heard on the news that Iran was dangerous". People still don't believe me, and I've been coming and going to Iran for about 8 years.

Iran does really attract the best tourists: people with a sense of adventure, no crippling fear of the unknown, and a love of humanity.

I'm not sure why this would be unpopular. Iran is the place I would most like to visit in the world. The politics are complicated (I'm American), which sucks, but the attraction to the country, and the culture, seems obvious.

My grandparents and dad and uncle lived there for several years in the 50s. They have shared many amazing stories of their time there. (Pre-islamic revolution, while the Shah was in power, but still, the people are the same.)

We heard plenty of stories pre-revolution too. I get the feeling that the Iranians understand the long-term, almost like a lifetime or two is not really that significant. A few decades or centuries mean nothing to them. I suppose having ~8000 years of history counts for something!

We Iranians do not have 8000 years of Iranian history. That is rather too generous.

Those bits of artifacts and archeological sites that do date to 8000 years ago are pre-Elamite and Elam and Susiana were themselves not not an Iranian people. Iran is not a geographic construct: it is (and remains in the current diaspora), true to its nomadic Aryan roots, a portable civilization of mind, heart, and spirit.

Proto-Iranians date to 2nd millenium B.C. The Medes were the first Iranian urban civilization in the Iranian Plateau and they date to 3000 years ago. The Pars ("Persians") - a related Iranian tribe (Achaemenid Shahanshah Cyrus's grandfather was the king of the Medes) - followed. Subsequent to Alexander, there was a period of Greek occupation, followed by 2 lesser known, but actually culturally more influential than Achaemenids, Iranian empires: the Parthians and the hugely influential Sassanian.

Elam: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elam

Mede: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medes

Pars: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achaemenid_Empire

Seleucids (Greek occupation): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seleucid_Empire

Parthian (of the Parthian 'shot' fame): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthian_Empire

Sasanians: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sasanian_Empire


Thank you. Yes, maybe a bit too generous but certainly long, colourful and complex.

This YouTube personality Indigo Traveller has what I thought to be an interesting series of videos on his visit to Iran. A number of similarities in what you wrote and what his videos showed.


I once read an interview with an experienced travel writer in which one of the questions was something like: Which is the most interesting country to visit? The answer was something like: Perhaps France, but that's too boring and obvious an answer; if not France, then Iran.

PS while I’d wanted to visit Iran for many years, I was pushed over the edge once I read Paul William Robert’s book - The Journey of the Magi (not the TS Eliot poem, but that’s good too).


Yes, everyone who has visited, has loved it. https://www.rado.bg/?s=Iran

I'm curious since you call it the most western of the eastern countries - about what percentage of the population speaks at least some English? How hard would it be to just show up as a foreigner with no knowledge of the language and do stuff like get directions, book a hotel/apartment, etc?

I have no idea of the percentage of English speakers, but I didn't have a problem. This Quora answer [1] mentions that younger people are more likely to speak English, and I saw that but the interactions with middle-aged people was OK too. There's usually a way to get by. With the professional class there, their conversational English was excellent.

[1] https://www.quora.com/How-many-people-speak-English-in-Iran

Lack of popularity in US ? I have had most wonderful interaction with Irani people and would love to visit.

Sounds like you had a great trip!!

I sued to hang out on motorbike forums and I remember that it seemd that the two places people raved about travelling through were Iran and Syria. It is a funny world.

BTW the BBC last year did a series by the awesome Samira Ahmed called the Art of Persia. It is stunning.

It sounds like you liked Iranians because they were more similar to you than you thought they were. That doesn't sound particularly mind blowing.

It's a wonderful country, the problem is that the propensity of its regime to take hostages by arresting tourists for trumped-up felonies. e.g.



Your comment is a great example of what I have noticed for many years now, and may be helpful for anyone with an interest in reading about Iran:

Whenever am article about Iran is written, no matter what the topic (in this case, simply Iranian music), if the article paints something about Iran in a positive light there will be a comment regarding either:

a) terrorism b) homosexuality c) tourist hostages

These comments are almost exclusively written by Iranian expats, children of Iranian expats, Israeli's, or people who have never been to Iran. Almost always, the comments are provably wrong, blown out of a proportion, or define Iran by standards that are not applied to other countries.

Iran is the best country on the planet to be a tourist in, like another poster on this thread I have also visited around 80 countries, and returned to Iran countless times.

The GP explicitly suggested visiting. Once the issue was mentioned, it was fair and useful to remind people of the risks of being held hostage. I wouldn't have piped in if it wasn't mentioned.

I assume good faith and hope others return the favour, so I won't be backhandedly blaming people for running a campaign. It's an open forum, not a social bubble, we should expect to find people with different opinions here. Some of them are even wrong on the internet!

Just trying to spread the word that whenever Iran is mentioned positively, people will always, without fail, mention blown out of proportion things like the "risk" of visiting Iran (when the risk of visiting, say, Tehran as a tourist is measurably and quantifiably lower than say, visiting Chicago).

Cheers, all in good faith here.

>quantifiably lower than say, visiting Chicago

I remember these arguments from the Iraq War, and there was the same flaw: They ignore how one avoids risk.

You avoid risk in Chicago by trying not to visit crime-ridden areas, rather than treating them as a tourist attraction. You avoid risk of being taken hostage by the Iranian regime by trying to avoid areas it controls.

You're now using a war from many decades ago to try and make a non-sensical point about being tourist in modern day Iran?

100%, you're Israeli, and not commenting with the good faith you previously claimed.

Incredibly predictable.

Irrelevant? You're the guy which suddenly popped up Chicago, as if that makes any sense. And for such a world-weary traveller, you should know that Iraq war wasn't that long ago; And your only reply to any arguments is to deflect. Readers can deduce for themselves what that means.

Aside: article points a finger at sanctions but doesn't mention another fascinating problem-- Iran is one of the few countries left that isn't party to a copyright treaty. As Iranian author, would have to do first publication in a treaty country-- but the legal definition of "publication" is outdated in several countries and might not include, e.g., streaming. Good on these 30M guys for doing the work.

> Iran is one of the few countries left that isn't party to a copyright treaty

Is this why many movie piracy sites are hosted on .ir domains?

I don't believe I've ever seen a .ir website in my ~25 years online.

Well, if you ever need to use some software you lost the license to after legitimately purchasing it, a lot of .ir websites have very good selections of ways around that for almost any software you can imagine.

That goes with sanctions; as a result the Iranian warez scene is actually vital to their economy.

I'd be wary of any such websites. Do you have a link or two so I know to avoid them?

I have never seen one. Bandwidth costs are ridiculously high in Iran, so most websites are hosted outside of Iran. There are Iranian piracy sites, but they block non-Iranian IP addresses to avoid being kicked off their hosting service.

If you're curious about classical Iranian music, I highly recommend looking up Kayhon Kalhor. He is an extremely talented Kurdish musician (mainly playing the kamancheh, which is a sort of proto-violin) who often collaborates with Yo-Yo Ma. I particularly like Ascending Bird, in collaboration with the Brooklyn Rider. His duet performance of Morghe Sahar with Yo-Yo Ma is amazing too.

Hayedeh, Mohammad Shajarian and, more recently, his son Homayoun Shajarian are also amazing singers. Chera Rafti is very popular introduction to Homayoun.

I came across iranian classical music by accident years ago and keep coming back to it in a way I don't even with western classical music (I'm european). It's beautiful, highly skilled, passionate, and very much its own thing.

My starting point was Hossein Alizadeh and Masters of Persian Music (which also features Mohammad and Homayoun Shajarian). Unfortunately their albums come and go a bit on streaming services.

“On Top of Mount Damavand Forever” has quite an extensive collection of classical music, including some gems of Persian classical music.

A sample: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dv_iUYV9uIg

YT channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2zlRzqMd3I9xd3g4nOVx6Q

Thank you for the recommendations of Iranian musicians.

I found that the first person's name is commonly spelled Kayhan Kalhor, with an "a" instead of "o" in the first name.

I recommend the music of Sima Bima. A truly wonderful voice, with a great ensemble.

There is an instrument played in Iran, possibly more widely which is a huge Tambour, like the Irish Bodhran, but with chain all round, which makes a rich swoosh sound like brushes on hi-hats. I noticed it in a lot of her music. Its a Daf or Taf I think

And, the Oud. Great sounds.

It's amusing that one of the youtube videos they've listed has already been removed for a copyright claim.

Pour one out for Radio Darvish.


It seems like you're hijacking this thread to make a your own political point. The people of Iran are also caught up in the mess, and this especially includes musicians and artists, who are often activist, but don't have a huge global voice, or global concern. The country and it's people are beautiful, but, yes, it's not just sanctions affecting the country, but also oppression from the theocratic government downwards. Interesting to note, that the most recent study of religious affiliation in Iran shows that roughly only a third identify as Shia muslim:


For people who want a deeper dive into the geo-political issues and growing secularism movement across the Middle East, I'd highly recommend the provocatively titled 'Secular Jihadists' podcast. The hosts are both ex-pat apostate Muslims, one from Iran, one from Saudi Arabia, and they have interesting insights into West Asia, and secularism in general.

> It seems like you're hijacking this thread to make a your own political point

No I am not. I was making a salient legal point. The OP recommended visiting and making up your own mind. I pointed out that for many people that would be dangerous and illegal.

I have sympathy for the Iranian people who have a wonderful culture but are held captive by a repressive fanatical regime.

It's not the content of the message I take issue with, but the delivery. You seem to be posing this salient point in plaintive opposition. I think you could have raised the issues without the negativity, as I don't think the OP had the intention to paper over the very real issues of the country but provide an honest perspective.

You do realize the government pays for sex reassignment surgery there...

TIL. From the wiki:

> Since 2017, the government has provided transgender persons financial assistance in the form of grants of up to 5 million tomans ($400~ USD).[2][failed verification] However, Iran is not a country tolerant of nonbinary genders or non-heterosexuality[citation needed]. They sanction funds for sex reassignment surgery in order to fit all of their citizens into the category of either male or female. Those who get these surgeries performed are subject to social stigma from their families and communities


Yet the regime that regardless of sexual orientation prevents free travel without checkpoints suspecting terrorism of all...

As I said, I recommend going and making your own mind up. That includes about going.

Everything you mention can be worked around, should you chose to go down that path. I met folks from each of your classifications in Iran. True, not easy for them, but, you know, wasn't easy in the US or Europe that long ago either. Tolerance isn't equally distributed, as we all know.

It's our planet, dammit, and we should be able to go where we want based on our own risk profile. None of those problems you mention are unique to Iran.

Nothing of what you said takes anything away from the people of Iran. Flawed leadership and policy - yes, again, something we're all probably familiar with no matter where we're born or where we live.

My sympathies to the Israelis who would like to travel to Iran. My greater sympathies to the Palestinians who would like to travel within their own neighborhoods.

In the West bank, there are Israeli checkpoints everywhere and whenever non-compliance happens, collective punishment is applied (which is against the Geneva conventions).

It's amazing what inventions people create about Israel while excusing an outright theocracy which executes violators of its religious laws (ok, some women who'd like to not wear a head cover just get 20 years in prison). Is the welfare of Iranians entirely secondary to yet another hopeless campaign against Israel?

You understand it is all on YouTube right? What is your next claim, that it is a cinematic production of some sort?

You can see the IDF soldiers harassing people in the checkpoints, catcalling the women and giving nicknames to people.

The objective seems to be to put as many obstructions to normal life as possible, so people just give up and move somewhere else.

Harass people until they protest, and once they protest just shoot them all. Starting by the paramedics.

Harass people in every form possible. Harass the fishermen with artillery shots, make people spend 4 hours every day in checkpoints, kill the olive trees, sabotage the water towers so they have a putrid smell, demolish the schools, send people to some kangaroo court and seize their property, burn children with white phosphorous, etc.

Why does Israel have so many armored bulldozers? (D9) What are they for? We all know what they are for.

I respect the Jewish people and the Jewish faith, I am part Jew myself although not religious. But what Israel is either doing or allowing to happen is not the way.

> non-operative transsexual person

I have no idea what this means. We're making up identities so quickly it's hard to even keep up with the jargon.

It is simple descriptive term that means a trans person who has not had gender reassignment surgery. It is legal to be a post-operative transsexual person, but not a non-operative transsexual in Iran.

Thought sex change operations are performed in Iran. And your remark about the intolerance to gays: yes the govt is officially making a tough stance, but I found most modern barbershops staffed with gays discussing their situation openly with me.

Have you been to Iran, or are you Iranian?

You seem so positive about Israel, and interestingly enough I view that country as modern apartheid state, with racist laws an policies.

Your comment is sad but true; that said Iran wasn’t always like this and I’m sure it won’t be. As an Iranian in diaspora I hope my people win their painful struggle for having a free and just society for everyone.

The current Iranian political religious hardline situation has pretty much been the result of the US/UK meddling with their politics and having the democratic/progressive guy killed at some point.

It's disgusting.

When you visit Israel your passport is not stamped so they have no way of knowing you have visited Israel.

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