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Last Updated: Monday, 8 May 2006, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Iran's underground music challenge
Leo Sayer
Leo Sayer inspired a subculture of underground easy listening
As part of the BBC's Inside Iran season, Behzad Bolour of the BBC Persian Service looks at how underground acts are challenging the tough music censorship laws in the country.

Western music has actually been banned since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Funnily enough, two acts were allowed to be published - Elton John and Queen. They got permission - somebody convinced the government that they are not really bad, and they would not influence the young generation.

I'm sure the government doesn't know the true sexual orientation of the singers.

But what president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said at the end of last year was that we have to be careful because Iranian music inside Iran, produced and recorded by young Iranians, is becoming more and more Western.

He said the country has to go back to its revolution, and sing revolutionary song - higher love, and things that are beyond this world.

Private concerts

Western music now is not meant to be heard - but in most hi-fis and cars, you can still heard Pink Floyd, Elton John and George Michael.

Young Iranians inside Iran are still listening to this music, although the government does not allow it.

O-Hum paved the way for other bands
Meanwhile, the suppression of music and youth culture in Iran - which has been going on for the last 25 years - has led to the development of a lot of sub-cultures.

Kids in school listen to Metallica and death metal bands, and they have invented their own Iranian style of rock and hip-hop.

You can hear a lot of their own home recordings on the internet. One of them became much bigger than just a home recording - O-Hum.

A rock band, O-Hum emerged six years ago. They deceived many government officials by giving private concerts in Ukrainian churches.

They recorded music in good quality and put it on the internet for free - they even managed to perform concerts in Germany.

What all this has done is pave the way for other bands. One recent group, 127, has now been able to give concerts in the US and South America - but O-Hum began it.

O-Hum are still in Iran, struggling to change things.

Other acts, however, base their sound on another Western style. In Iran's underground subculture, the easy listening of acts like Leo Sayer has always been very fashionable.

Iranian youth has translated that into a style of a single guitar, singing together and clapping hands. Also, they sing in English - although many of them are not very good at it.

One song, Zan, was put on the internet by the singer Golhay on Iranian Women's Day. To me, it was a fantastic example of Iranian easy listening - with a message.

Developing new cultures

It took a long time, but hip-hop is taking off too. At first the rapping was really bad - the Persian language does not really sit well on those beats.

But in the last five years, lots of underground bands have started experimenting - they have really funny voices, and they try to copy the African-American style of voice.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
President Ahmadinejad - probably not owner of many Queen albums
One big bands is Hich-Kas, which means "nobody" in Persian. Even in Europe I have heard people listening to them.

They are critical about the way we live in Iran - they complain about unemployment, the way we live with violence, and the government ignoring the people.

Recently, London-based Iranian rapper Reveal went to Iran and the two recorded a track together. They think they can give messages of being unhappy in Iran, in rap and also in rock.

What is also exciting is the emergence of female rappers - which will particularly upset Ahmedinajad.

Two rappers, Salomi and Mani, have interestingly had their pictures put on the internet - without the hijab.

That could be quite dangerous for them.

They talk about the way of life in Iran from a girl's point of view. I recently spoke to another female rapper, Nazila, who left home in Iran. She is looking for a group to help her write a song about why girls in Iran run away from home, and the violence and unfairness towards women.

Rap really is developing in new areas in Iranian culture.

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