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 Wednesday, 1 January, 2003, 11:22 GMT
An Iranian musician's homecoming
Shahin Shahida
Shahin found Tehran full of artistic energy
Rob Watson

Shahin Shahida is one of the stars of what's often referred to as world music.

As part of the duo, Shahin & Sepehr, the Iranian-born Shahin is well known for his mixing of Persian and Western sounds.

Although Shahin has made his life and his name in the US, he recently returned to Iran on an extraordinary journey of rediscovery.

He returned feeling a stranger in his homeland but believing that East and West had much to learn from each other.

Bustling but beautiful

Shahin had not stepped foot in Iran since the Islamic revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power in 1979.

"You arrive at the airport, and you realise that it is indeed an Islamic society. And the rules are very much out there to be abided by," he said.

A street with the snow-capped Alborz Mountains in the background
The Alborz Mountains provide a beautiful backdrop to Tehran
The continuing influence of Islam struck him on his recent return, but he was also hit by something else.

"The one thing that strikes you is the traffic. Traffic is horrendous. It's crazy. It's just out of control," he said.

Despite the chaotic traffic, he was struck by Tehran's beauty and energy.

"The typical street scene is this lovely backdrop of the Alborz Mountains, which are just humongous," he said.

The snow-capped mountains, dotted with trees, dominate the skyline.

Cultural curiosity

Shahin found an eager curiosity about the United States and the West.

"You see these young kids running around. As soon as they find out you're from the United States, they totally embrace you and want to know more about you and the US," he said.

And he found Iranians eager and open to Western ideas. "What is striking to me is that everyone is very receptive to Western ideologies and thinking," he said.

To those tempted to think of Iran as some quiet Islamic backwater, Shahin says think again.

Music duo Shahin & Sepehr
Shahin heard his music played on Iranian radio stations
"Tehran has a real buzz about it. I equated it to being in New York City," he said.

As a musician, Shahin said he found a thriving artistic scene. "There is a tremendous amount of talent and tremendous need for expression."

His music has crossed from America back to his native Iran, with one of his songs, 1001 Nights, getting frequent airtime on Iranian radio stations.

Persian pop from Iranian artists in Los Angeles dominates the airwaves of Iran.

"And the younger kids seem to be listening to everything that's on top of the charts here in the United States," he said.

Political divide

Though young Iranians may be open to American ideas and music, there is far from complete harmony between the two cultures.

President Bush's description of Iran as part of an "axis of evil" struck a particularly discordant note with those Shahin met.

It was mentioned quite often, Shahin said. "They don't understand why they are being lumped up with the terrorists."

He said they often asked: "How come out of all the 19 hijackers, there was not one Iranian, however, Iran was labelled as the 'axis of evil'?"
They don't understand why they are being lumped up with the terrorists


He didn't have an answer, he said, adding: "I leave politics to politicians."

Clearly happier talking as an artist, Shahin said that his journey had convinced him that East and West have much to learn from each other, once he got over the initial culture shock.

"I felt like a stranger in my homeland because having lived in the States for most of my life, I feel an affinity to the western way of life and the western ideology," he said.

"But at the same time, the spiritual side that comes out of the eastern hemisphere is a very deep and refreshing one," he added.

"You feel that somewhere in between would be nice: To have more of that deep philosophical, spiritual experience injected into the Western way of life."

  The BBC's Rob Watson
"After the culture shock, he came to believe East and West have much to offer each other"
See also:

06 Nov 02 | Country profiles
26 Nov 02 | Middle East
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