Imagine if you were a rock or hip hop musician and had to seek a green light for your art from an institution called the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
Welcome to Iran, where some music is technically illegal.
“Don’t bother,” the guidance is likely to be. “It’s not really worth your trouble. And as for performing in public, there is more chance of a Boyzone concert in Pyongyang with Kim Jong-un executing another subordinate with anti-aircraft fire as a warm-up act.”
No Coachella or Glastonbury equivalent any time soon.
Heavy metal and socio-political hip hop are among the banned music in Iran and musicians can only gig in underground pop-up venues that run the risk of being invaded by the so-called moral police. Organisers and performers face serious consequences if they are caught.
For that reason, many musicians quit the country. MTV catches up with a few in Rebel Music: Iran, The Music Never Stopped, its second six-part series on music in countries where terms such as gangsta, thug life, and criminals are, to varying degrees, more apt descriptions of the authorities rather than the artists.
The series is the brainchild of Nusrat Durrani, who ensured that teams behind each episode had firsthand experience of the cultures. “One of the goals of ‘Rebel Music’ is to present untold stories of youth authentically, in a balanced way,” Durrani said. For the Iran episode, he brought on two female Iranian directors, Roxana Vilk and Sara Zandieh.
The Iran episode highlights the plight of artists, including heavy metal band Master of Persia. Founded in the conservative holy city of Mashad, the band was forced to flee after lead singer MerajMOP was charged with being a devil-worshipper and received 130 times lashes. “I realised I couldn’t stay any longer,” he tells MTV.
When I scream, I’m screaming about the problems all women have to deal with,” says his bandmate, thrashing vocalist AnahidMOP. She cuts a striking figure with flowing dyed red locks, tattooed and shaved half-head.
The pair re-enact their escape from Iran to Turkey, where they currently live, and the film charts their attempt to get a gig off the ground in the town of Canakkale.
Iranian hip hop artist Erfan details his own story of being forced to leave Iran, only to find himself arrested as part of the post 9/11 roundups in the United States. “It’s a bizarre feeling to leave the country you love in search of freedom, only to find yourself imprisoned without charge in America,” he said in a telephone interview.
They are joined in this thoughtful 24-minute programme by their exiled peers in hubs such as Los Angeles and Brooklyn. But now there are new challenges – and no turning around and going back home, as Anahid acknowledges in the film, fighting back tears.