Musicians in Iran need plenty of patience in the battle against censorship

July 2007 -

"To dance is to break your ego!" says a song by the famous Iranian rock band O-Hum. It is actually a quotation from Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-1273), a celebrated Persian poet. The combination of cultural heritage with hip-hop, rap and rock music is typical of the (underground) music scene in Iran. Iranian musicians have proudly named this style "Combined Music".


Sounds of Silence, stills

Music has been banned in Iran since 1979. Sounds of Silence (2006), a documentary by Amir Hamz (Germany), shows that, despite this ban or perhaps because of it, the country has a vibrant music scene. The film, which was shown at the Beeld voor Beeld Festival in Amsterdam in June 2007, is informative but also somewhat long-drawn-out, mainly because it comprises a collation of interviews with Iranian musicians.

"But it reflects the patience that musicians in Iran need in the battle against the religious censor, the Ershad," says Hamz, sitting at a pavement café in Amsterdam. "The Ershad screens the lyrics and the music separately. Often concerts are called off at the last minute. That's why I allowed the musicians to explain at length in the film how they circumvent the censor's regulations. For instance, women sing the melody without the lyrics because solo female voices are prohibited."

As there are no (official) clubs in Iran the music is disseminated mainly by illegal copies and the Internet. There is even an Underground Online Music Festival. Hamz: "Sounds of Silence also shows that many bands miss direct feedback from their fans, even though impromptu concerts are held in cellars or at private parties or sometimes on neutral territory such as the Russian Orthodox Church of Teheran."

It is a pity that no live performances are shown in the film. Hamz explains: "All the concerts we were going to film in Iran had been banned by the Ershad just before they were due to be staged". There will be a chance to get a taste of Iran's vibrant music scene at the second Iranian Intergalactic Music Festival in Amsterdam scheduled to take place in the autumn of 2007.