Projects Radio TablEpisode 1 •Music During the Cold War

Conversation between Mohammad Tolouei1 and Mani Jafarzadeh2Writer, Narrator, Sound Recorder and Editor: Farzan Asadian
Composer: Mani Jafarzadeh

The first episode of Tabl Radio is on music, which in three chapters, presents discussions on the policies in arts and culture, adopted during the cold war by the eastern and western forces in Iran. Moreover, it examines the history of the emergence of the academic practice of music in Iran; how the public preferences changed in the decades before the 80s, and how music was carried out in the context of the Islamic Revolution. These three chapters were recorded continuously.

Part 1 • 16 September 2020 — 28 mins.

The conversion begins with a discussion on whether the dominance of the Soviet Union over the Western bloc was by the means of music, used by the Soviet Union, as a cultural weapon.
After the socialist revolution, Russian leaders’ approach towards arts was manipulating it to fit their own ideals, and thus entrust it to the proletariat and use it to influence people. In the meantime, literature and visual arts were inspired by Socialist Realism. Moreover, the education and the performance of Russian Classical music, which already existed professionally, carried on strongly as a factor that encouraged Russians to unify, especially during World War II. For example, Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony, not being merely a valuable piece of music, is a narration of the context in which it created, i.e. the history of war and its political geography.
Despite this, since the general public does not consider classical music as entertainment, the Western bloc was more successful in reaching and influencing a wider audience. In addition, it goes without saying that Western music, being in genres other than the classic, such as rock and metal that are played with electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, and synthesizers—being examples of the best fusion of art and industry—also became popular for intertwining music with literature and lyrics and therefore, it may communicate a more direct message. In other words, this form of music is only one step behind literature in terms of communicating with the audience.
Although the Soviet Union was very successful in mass-producing classical music, and the Western bloc, despite its efforts, was still slightly behind the East in terms of the quantity of non-classical music it produced, the message conveyed by the Western music, for example in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, made it more popular around the world. This message, which came from the other side of the wall, heralded a world other than the one being propagated through socialism.

Part 2 • 30 September 2020 — 24 mins.

Iran was among the first countries to be affected by the East-West conflict in the area of music. Academic music in Iran was established in 1921, and at the same time, music education and singing national anthems became mandatory in primary schools. Subsequently, the School of Music was established by Ali-Naghi Vaziri, celebrated composer and Tar player, in 1923-24, and followed by the establishment of the Conservatory of Music. In addition, the establishment of the Organization for Intellectual Development in 1938—with the purpose of producing a kind of music that provokes a sense of nationalism—as well as the establishment of the Military band, conducted by Salar Mo’azez )Gholam-Reza Minbashian), transformed the position of musicians from mere court entertainers to esteemed members of the society. This led to the recognition of not only musicians who played western instruments, but also Iranian instrumentalists—including Colonel Vaziri who specialized in the Tar—and consequently led to a renewed attention to Iranian musical instruments. It is also noteworthy to mention the establishment of Baladieh Orchestra, as one of the most influential events of the time, which is the oldest Western orchestra in Asia, even predating the Tokyo Orchestra.
In one way or another, most Iranian artists of the time seemed to be influenced by the Leftist discourse that was dominant in the society, which was perhaps due to the lack of other powerful ideologies. Therefore, a large number of the musicians were also very close to the Tudeh Party. In that very atmosphere, although classical music was still considered elitist, other genres of music became more popular in society. In the 1940s and 1950s, French and German music could be heard in Tehran’s cafes, But Lalehzar Avenue was still the center of Iranian-style percussion-based music. Later, in the late 1950s and 1960s, more distinct types of music, especially American jazz, became popular in Iran, which was perhaps due to the return of those who had been in the United States for education and also the greater influence of American culture in the second Pahlavi era.

Part 3 • 4 November 2020 — 34 mins.

The popularity of American jazz, even among those influenced by Leftism, lead to a sort of contradiction. In the mid-60s, the allocation of a national budget to music, the acceleration of building concert halls, and the invitation of non-Iranian musicians and composers to Iran, such as the leading German composer Stockhausen who performed at Shiraz Art Festival, led to the transformation of the former situation. But Iranian intellectuals who mostly supported Leftism considered these activities as being influenced by Western culture and ideologies and refused to follow any movement that was supported by the royal court. Instead, they turned their attention to a form of modern pop music that despite its Western appearance, seemed to be in line with Leftism and was against the ruling regime; for example, works of Farhad Mehrad and Fereydoon Foroughi were less commercial and more professional than mass-produced pop music. At the same time, the role of Leftist literature became more prominent in music, especially in the lyrics of Esfandiar Monfaredzadeh and Shahryar Ghanbari, as if these songs were meant to carry the burden of protest and struggle. Nonetheless, the start of the Islamic Revolution led to the dismantling of pop music altogether, from Aghasi to those similar to Farhad. It should be noted that before the Revolution, concurrent with Shiraz Art Festival, which did not include Iranian music, efforts were also made in support of traditionalism by establishing the Center for Preservation and Propagation of Iranian Music.
After the Revolution, among all these different movements and trends, only traditional Iranian music, that previously did not receive enough appreciation, gained popularity. On the other hand, newborn revolutionary anthems that emerged after the Revolution, enjoyed harmonies, performances, and even the choir that remained close to the Eastern bloc’s music themes; for example, the song “To the Tulip Lying in Blood…” Leftist groups, like Chavosh that was one of the main pillars of the Center for Preservation and Propagation of Iranian Music, grew with the support of Houshang Ebtehaj, had to gradually change their vocabulary in order to escape censorship.
At the beginning of the 1960s, this trend evolved and led to the creation of Noha, a kind of musical laments, that made relations between the Iranian soldiers of the Iran-Iraq war and the martyrs of Karbala in order to motivate people to volunteer for the war effort. In contrast to the revolutionary anthems that still contained a hint of the importance of composition, Noha was completely dependent on the text of the maddāḥ (eulogist).
At the same time, another important musical trend, namely the Los Angelino music, continued to thrive as a representative of unrestricted Iranian music abroad. In Iran, however, pop music was essentially banned until the end of the war and the beginning of the Course of Development (Presidency of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani). In the early 90s, Fereydoun Shahbazian, as deputy director of the Center of Music at National Radio and Television, revived the market for pop music, supported musicians such as Ghasem Afshar, Mohammad Esfahani, Alireza Assar, and Khashayar Etemadi, leading to the production of works similar to Iranian American pop music produced in Los Angeles. The following generation of Iranian artists, whose works were more close to postmodernism than any other movement, produced a genre of Iranian fusion music. However, the influential role of the survivors of the previous generation’s music, like Ahmad Pejman, Mehran Rouhani, Fozieh Majd, and Alireza Mashayekhi, should not be overlooked, who, despite all the ups and downs in the music of past years, continued researching, teaching, and producing music, to keep alive a small, yet important intellectual movement.

1 - Mohammad Tolouei - born in 1979, Rasht, is an author, playwriter, and poet.

2 - Mani Jafarzadeh - born in 1978, Tehran, is a musician, composer, writer, and critic.