Saturday, September 01, 2007

Mohsen Namjoo

Nazila Fathi of the New York Times compares Mohsen Namjoo, an Iranian singer-songwriter, to Bob Dylan: "Iran’s Dylan on the Lute, With Songs of Sly Protest" (1 September 2007). The problem is that Namjoo doesn't sound at all like Dylan. If he must be compared to another singer-songwriter, why not Victor Jara? (But his politics isn't straightforward, unlike Jara's. The refrain from "Aghayede Nue Kanti [Neo-Kantian Ideas]," which Fathi discusses, goes: "I have my neo-Kantian ideas / You have your poppies from Normandy." Get it?) Or Leonard Cohen? (But his lyrics are not as cynical as Cohen's. The aforementioned song also says, "What do you say to yourself? My dear Khatami? / What are you still pursuing? My heartache?")

Listen to Namjoo's "Begoo Begoo," "Zolf Bar Bad," "Gees," "Toranj," and "Ya Ali," as well as "Aghayede Nue Kanti," and you be the judge. (N.B. Most of the videos were made by his fans, so he's not responsible for their visual contents.)

Fathi also claims that Namjoo's "music sounds Persian, but the melodies take away the melancholy that often suffuses classical Persian music." Namjoo himself, however, does not appear to think so. He wrote an essay for TehranAvenue "In Praise of the Minor Key, A -- The Third Note" (March 2006):
I have been fascinated, for many years now, and after repeated encounters, by the magical hold that the minor key -- more specifically, the third degree (or note) of this scale -- has over everyone’s ears*. Many composers use it, consciously or instinctively. The history of the utilization of this musical tool is a fascinating aspect of any culture’s artistic heritage. In fact, where this position is most effective is when it forms an interval of minor third, in relation to the tonic (the first note of the scale), ascending, from one to three, or descending, from three to one, with the former being the most prevalent.

This is basically a romantic interval, meaning that it has an aura of sanctity to it. Regardless of why or how, it invariably guides the listener towards a place of depth and meaning, which is also melancholic.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

An ideological revolution is undoubtedly a manifestation of romantic fury, and the third of minor is, likewise, a romantic position. It is used by both the victor, to denote his supreme righteousness, and by the conquered, to highlight the tragedy of her defeat.
In this erudite and yet whimsical essay, Namjoo ranges widely, surveying a wide variety of music from traditional Persian music in a time of revolution to Cohen's "I'm Your Man."

BTW, in her article, Fathi notes in passing: "To this day, women are not allowed to sing" in Iran. And yet, back in June, Neo-Resistance, an Iranian woman's blog, cited an ISNA aricle: "Arian Band is the first ever band consisting of both men and women singers and players in Iran and the first music group to represent Iranian pop music. Their debut album, 'Gole Aftabgardoon' (The Sunflower) was released in 2000. The album had huge success in Iran. The band was recently nominated for the BBC World Music Award" (emphasis added). BBC favorably took note of the band in 2004: "Iran's First Pop Revolutionaries" (13 December 2004). Nevertheless, the Times reporter acts as if nothing of the sort had happened in Iran. Par for the course for the empire's paper of record.

Listen to Arian Band's "Ay Javidan Iran [Immortal Iran]," the song the band made for Iran's national football team on the occasion of World Cup 2006.

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