The Status of Music in the Islamic Republic of Iran

This article consists of a brief description of the politico-cultural status of music in Iran with particular attention to various organizations that govern and control music and musical activities. It also reviews the importance attributed by a number of institutions to "regional music."

Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, music has been the subject of fierce political and religious debate in Iran. Its legal and social status has constantly been changing and continues to be the object of various restrictions because of music’s alleged powers of seduction and corruption. Indeed, from the very outset, the official position of the Islamic regime was unmistakable. All concerts, and specially all radio and television broadcasts of foreign and Iranian, classical and popular music, were banned. Nevertheless, despite all the measures designed to stifle music, it could not be eliminated from Iranian culture. In fact, the very intention of abolishing music in public life unexpectedly led to increasing practice of music within the family circle by the younger generation of all social classes.

Following the end of the Iran-Iraq war and the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, a number of limited liberalizing measures affected Iran’s cultural life and led to official tolerance of certain genres of musical activities. Private and illicit production and dissemination of Iranian pop music, that closely resembles the pop music of the Iranian exile community in California, has mushroomed. However, only specific versions of Iran’s traditional and regional music are officially sanctioned and thus allowed to be broadcast by the state-run radio and television stations. Furthermore, the emphasis placed on the preservation of purity of classical Iranian music is tantamount to the demand for an authenticity of musical expression that goes beyond the tradition it claims to respect.

Although one might be encouraged by the official interest in regional music, there are also reasons to worry about the swing of the pendulum by which the tradition upheld by the bards is set up by official cultural authorities as an intangible and insuperable dogma. The application of this dogma is entrusted to three official organizations dealing with cultural matters. They are to "protect" and "supervise" the "purity and authenticity" of Iranian music, and "control" what is heard and seen by the public in musical festivals and on national television screens. Music in Iran, therefore, continues to be closely controlled by governmental authorities, and to be subject to a very insidious form of censorship.

Ameheh Youssefzadeh
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