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Last Updated: Monday, 9 February, 2004, 12:06 GMT
Fresh Iranian bands ready to rock
Miranda Eeles
By Miranda Eeles
BBC, Tehran

Iranian music fans are beginning to access a variety of styles

Rock, rap and reggae are not the first things that spring to mind when you think of music in Iran.

But groups playing all three genres have entered a competition aimed at introducing new talent in the Islamic Republic.

The competition has been organised by tehranavenue.com, a Tehran- based website which is run entirely by young, enthusiastic and talented volunteers.

The offices of tehranavenue.com have been busy for months.

It is not an easy task organising a music competition over the net.

And when you live and work in the Islamic Republic of Iran, there are certain limitations, either subconscious or explicit, on forms of self-expression.

Subjects such as censorship, quality, and who should be the judge turned many meetings into lengthy discussions.

Alternative

The competition - called Tehran Avenue Music Open - attracted hundreds of emails from interested bands.

The website eventually accepted 42 tracks. "Some of the tracks are really professional, said Soheyl Shahsavari, one of the organisers.

"For example Motogen from France.

"The style is reggae, the singer is Iranian, the rest are French.

"It's a great track."

Most of the bands are from Iran, but there are also entries from Sweden, France and Canada - all with an Iranian connection.

"Some are good, but others still have a long way to go to improve," said Shadi Vatanparast, one of the website's key members.

"An interesting point about this year's participants is that there are all kinds of genres.

"Last year it was only rock but now we have alternative rock, progressive rock, pop rock.

"This variety makes the competition more attractive."

Restrictions eased

The web-based music competition is not just a sign of slightly looser times in Iran.

It also reveals how innovative and adept Iranian youth can be when it comes to modern technology.

They have taken advantage of a medium - the internet - which by its very nature is less controllable, and turned it into a means of self-expression.

The site is one of the only ways young aspiring musicians can get their music heard by the public.

After the Revolution in 1979 only traditional music bands could perform.

When reformist President Mohammad Khatami came to power in 1997, restrictions on live performances were eased.

Soon the first Iranian pop bands started to appear on the scene.

However, concerts are few and far between and remain strictly controlled.

Fans have to stay seated - dancing, even moving energetically in your seat - is forbidden.

Although it's obviously a kind of rock music, there's an Iranian tinge to it and that's different
Bahram Bahrami, music fan

The alternative rock group "127" was recently given permission to play at Tehran's art university.

It is one of the few places where live performances are allowed for groups such as theirs.

"Four years ago we could never play here", said lead singer Sohrab Mohebbi.

"It was impossible to do such a thing but now we're getting a chance to play so maybe in a couple of years we can play more in different places, not just in universities."

The audience clearly loved the performance, particularly when guest musicians playing traditional Persian instruments came to join them on stage.

"The better part of it is that as you listen, although there it is obviously a kind of rock music, at the same time you can hear the Iranian tinge to it and that's different," said Bahram Bahrami, a medical student.

Underdeveloped

One of the main problems facing rock musicians in Iran is the fact that the audience is unaccustomed to new genres.

Most live music in Iran is still of the traditional variety and concerts where well-known musicians play classical instruments like the daf, the setar and the nay sell out well in advance.

Producers then are reluctant to support underdeveloped genres for Iranian musicians like rock, rap and reggae.

"127" hope restrictions on where they can perform will be relaxed

Babak Chamanara runs the Beethoven music store in Tehran.

He says it is still tough to find Iranian producers who are used to hearing anything but traditional music or the standard pop fare that comes from exiled musicians in Los Angeles.

"The problem is that non-traditional and non-pop music sounds a bit strange to music industry people, including concert holders, album makers, technical crews and marketing companies", said Chamanara.

"This is a market problem, they see that this genre does not sell, therefore they do not invest in it or make advertisements for it."

Which is why a music competition like the one at tehranavenue.com can help the development of alternative music in Iran.

It not only gives bands a chance to work on their sound, it also gives more Iranians a chance to listen to music, even if they have to do it online.


SEE ALSO:
Iran vows to increase military strength
22 Sep 03  |  Middle East
Iran's frustrated generation
10 Jul 03  |  Middle East
Iran TV channel targets Iraq
03 Apr 03  |  Middle East
Iran's youth reveal anger and sadness
10 Dec 02  |  Middle East
Country profile: Iran
15 Jan 04  |  Country profiles


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