The Iran Project

Culture Clash

By Debra Baer

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(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely
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WALTER CRONKITE: The United States has a long history of cultural influence in Iran. The Islamic Revolution in 1979 wiped out most popular culture. So, many Iranian entertainers moved to Los Angeles. Today their music, CD's and videos are smuggled back to Iran. But, some Iranians resent what they consider a new attempt to westernize their culture. Correspondent Debra Baer [bear] begins the story in Los Angeles.

[Traditional Persian music played by Sadeghi]

MANOOCHEHR SADEGHI: These are some of the Persian motifs and Persian rhythmic things…What I play, if you find a santur player in Tehran, you will hear this.

DEBRA BAER: UCLA Musicologist Manoocher Sadeghi began playing the santur, or hammer dulcimer, as a boy in Tehran. He studied with a master of the Persian Classical Tradition - a music with ancient roots that has evolved through centuries of Islamic and European cultural influence.

By the time Sadeghi was a master musician himself in the late '50's. A different sort of music was emerging in Iran.

(Sound of Persian pop music)

MANOOCHEHR SADEGHI: They composed these new songs in the western style—pop songs like French and Italian and then they put Persian words to it. That's how the pop music came about. It was pretty appealing to the younger people because they were the ones; they were under the influence of the west.

(Music by Googoosh)

BAER: By the 1970's, Persian pop was huge, and its reigning diva was Googoosh. She fused modern western rhythms with traditional Persian melodies and poetry. With the vocal talent of Barbara Streisand and the star power of Madonna, Googoosh set a new course in music and fashion—even introducing shorter hairstyles and hemlines.

Musicologist Sadeghi says the pop scene didn't emerge in a vacuum.

MANOOCHEHR SADEGHI: During the Shah, he had an ideology of westernization of Iran very rapidly. So it was not only the music. The whole country was going through this change. In industry, in culture, in arts, politics.

BAER: Iran was also trying to develop its economy. Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi opened the country to western oil companies, foreign investment, and his critics charged -foreign domination. Western culture flowed through the same pipeline—both the good and the bad.

MANOOCHEHR SADEGHI: The negative things were like promiscuity, breaking the family ties, pornography, uses of drug, and gradually losing the faith in their religion.

BAER: Anger was building over growing western domination of the economy, US support of the Shah's dictatorship, and an increasingly repressive military. Conservative clerics mobilized anti-western sentiment into a popular movement that ended the Shah's reign in 1979.

(Protestors shouting in the streets)

In the new Islamic republic, everything western was out. Prayers and dirges were in. Pop was banned. The industry virtually shut down. Women couldn't perform in front of men. Googoosh stayed in Iran, and her career was frozen in time. But most of Iran's pop singers fled to the west. Many ended up in Los Angeles—already home to a growing Iranian American community.

(Sounds from Tehrangeles, Farsi language, Persian music…)

West LA is the heart of what Iranians here call Tehrangeles. Iran's music industry was transplanted and reemerged in the 1980's. LA became the new capital of Persian pop. Old stars flourished and new ones emerged.

(An-Dee's promotional video - announcer in Farsi AN-DEE!)

AN-DEE: My name is An-Dee Andrahneek Mahdaden (an-DRAH-neek mah-DAD-ee-an). My friends call me An-Dee, which is the same as Andy.

(An-Dee's music)

BAER: An-Dee is the Ricky Martin of LA Persian pop. His music videos include lots of western instruments and sexy female dancers.

AN-DEE: I sing about girls, mostly about love; gained, love lost, beautiful girls, mostly beautiful Iranian girls. And dance music.

BAER: An-Dee's musical roots are decidedly western. In the 1970's in Iran, when everyone was going "ga-ga" over Googoosh, he was singing rock cover tunes in Tehran clubs catering to Europeans and Americans.

AN-DEE: In high school I got attracted to music because we had Voice of America blasting in radio stations in Iran, and I would listen to all of this rock music coming from America: Rod Stewart, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Elton John.

BAER: In 1978—Dreaming of becoming an American rock star—An-dee moved to LA where he became a Persian American pop star instead. An-dee's big with the under 30 crowd in North America, Europe and Iran—where pop, though illegal, continued to thrive underground. His smuggled tapes are widely bootlegged from Iran to Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.

AN-DEE: When something is banned people want more. Because we are banned in Iran, even people who don't like us will buy us.

BAER: Until a few years ago, Iranians caught with banned pop music faced fines, whippings, even jail. But today, the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami is more tolerant.

(Sounds from teen hangout)

At a teen hangout in the foothills above Tehran, kids break dance to western music blaring from a boom box… Just about everyone knows An-Dee's music.

TEEN MALE: I like him partially because of his personality. And his music is very happy; it's very alive.

BAER: An-Dee is both loved—and hated. Some Iranian teens think An-Dee and other LA Persian pop singers are too westernized.

TEEN FEMALE: They sing garbage. It doesn't make sense. You can't figure what they're talking about. So I don't listen to them.

BAER: To combat what it sees as the pernicious influence of western music, the government now allows Iranian musicians to perform indigenous pop. Fans like this teen consider it more compatible with Iranian culture.

TEEN FEMALE: The local pop music has meaning behind it. They take lyrics from the classic poets. There is a meaning and context to the song, which the kids relate to. It's also Islamic. It stays with the boundary of the culture. The stuff made over there by An-Dee there's no message to it.

BAER: While opinions are split on Andy, all of the young people interviewed idolize Googoosh. Banned from performing 20 years ago, the pop diva returned to the stage last year. She made a concert tour not in Iran, but in the West, after being granted permission to travel. While abroad, she released a new CD called "Zoroaster" featuring the song "Captive Land."

(Googoosh singing Captive Land)

ALAN GHASEMMI: It's about a land that's been captive.

BAER: Alan Ghasemmi promoted Googoosh's sold out U.S. concerts.

ALAN GHASEMMI: She came from a captive land but she's hoping like everybody that the new government will be more moderate. And it's time after 20 years it's time to be moderate. It's time to be a little bit westernized.

BAER: Just how moderate or how westernized Iran should be is the subject of ongoing political and cultural debate.

MANOOCHEHR SADEGHI: The Persian people, whether they are fanatic or not fanatic, they have a different point of view toward their culture.

BAER: UCLA musicologist Manoochehr Sadeghi.

MANOOCHEHR SADEGHI: And whatever will happen for that country, it will be in the hands of those people there.

BAER: Gogoosh and LA's Persian pop singers dream of performing again in their native land, and they are optimistic it will happen. Until then, they remain artists in exile, and the battle for Iran's soul continues both in politics and culture.

MANOOCHEHR SADEGHI: In the opinion of many scholars, the rush was too fast toward modernization and industrialization and taking away people's religion. And the culture could not take it. Now in the future the western influence and the Persian influence and the religion and the freedom will all take its own place and people will have a better system in the future. More music will be emerging.

BAER: For the Iran Project, I'm Debra Baer in Los Angeles.

© 2001 by The Stanley Foundation
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