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Monday, February 8, 1999 Published at 03:21 GMT

World: Middle East

Tehran goes pop

The Ayatollah took a dim view of Western culture

Live pop music has returned to Iran for the first time in 20 years with a series of concerts to mark the anniversary of the 1979 revolution.

A huge banner behind the stage proclaimed: "The First Popular Music Festival," over an image of a shooting star with a keyboard in its wake.

[ image: Traditional musicians entertain the crowds in Tehran's streets]
Traditional musicians entertain the crowds in Tehran's streets
The music was Iranian pop rather than its illegal Western counterpart but the instrumentation and heavy percussion showed a strong Western influence.

Several hundred people crowded into the concert in a working class suburb of south Tehran. But reports said the crowd appeared to come from the wealthier northern part of the capital.

"The [$2] tickets are expensive for people in this part of town," said one girl in the audience.

"In any case many of the people around here don't like this sort of thing - the older people prefer traditional or classical music and the younger people prefer genuine Western pop."

Vulgar lyrics banned

The performer Khashayar Etemadi is loved by many young people for the similiarity of his voice to Dariush, a popular singer before the revolution, who now lives in Los Angeles.

[ image: Western acts are not allowed in Iran]
Western acts are not allowed in Iran
Iranian music from California, where many exiles fled, is still banned by the Iranian authorities who regard it as "vulgar".

The local version which they now tolerate sounds similar, but the love themes which dominate the lyrics outside Iran are replaced with poetry.

Two of the backing vocalists and all three violinists were female and reports said there was no attempt to segregate the audience which was made up roughly equally of men and women.

True Islamic music

Mr Etemadi insists his music is entirely a product of the Islamic Republic.

"The popular music being performed here is music from today's Islamic Iran, and it is wrong to compare it to imported music," he told the daily Sobh-e-Emrooz.

He said the aim of the 10-day festival is to showcase pop music which is in harmony with "popular values and those of an Islamic society".

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