As many of you may know, in Iran you have to get permits for all music—first for the lyrics, and then a separate permit for the actual melody.
The Islamic Republic’s government censors use of permits to keep a tight rein on what art is allowed to be heard by the public.
You take your tracks to the government office where they decide if your music is allowed or not. After listening to everything, a government employee who knows nothing about music will give you a thumbs up (or not), and after that the music can actually be produced and distributed legally. This process is the same when trying to get permits for a concert.
Of course, Iranian musicians who fail to get official permits create a growing underground music scene. (Some of the best Punk Rock & Jazz bands in Iran are recording and performing illegally)
Now back to the main story, Kayhan Kalhor, an icon in Persian classical music and a Master Kamancheh player was set to perform in his hometown of Tehran early this month. He has been on tour in North America and all over Europe for the past few months, and performing in his home country was a huge deal.
The government failed to issue a permit.
The news broke two days before the planned concert, in which Kalhor was to be joined by the New York-based string quartet Brooklyn Rider.
It was said that the police decided not to sanction the event due to “security considerations.”
The head of the music department at Iran’s Culture Ministry criticized the decision not to issue a permit for Kalhor’s concert and said:
“Not giving a license to an Iranian musician who has worked hard to promote Iranian music in the world is not right in our view,” He added that the police should explain the decision, and that the move runs counter to the policies of President Rohani’s government, aimed at encouraging cultural diplomacy.
The incident is the latest in a series of concert cancelations in Tehran and other Iranian cities that appear to be related to pressure from hard-liners who criticize the government’s cultural policies as “too liberal”.
Iranian media have reported that more than a dozen concerts have been called off in recent months.
All of the cancelled concerts had received licenses from Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
In an interview, Kayhan Kalhor said that he would not hold any more concerts in Iran, in protest of the cancellation. He said that “these concerts will not be rescheduled. So long as Iran’s culture and arts are hostages in the ransom-taking and power struggles of political factions and no clear guidelines are defined and enforced for such activities, I will refrain from doing anything in Iran,”
Reacting to the cancellation of Mr. Kalhor’s concert, the spokesperson for the Culture Ministry, said on June 10 that “The Police does not have the right to revoke any concert licenses.” The Ministry of Culture provides opinions about the contents of concerts. Other organizations evaluate the general conditions of the artist. But the Police Force’s role is security-related and it states opinions about the security of the venue for the concerts…We don’t know whether the Police has a problem with Mr. Kalhor personally, or with his concert venue! If their problem is Mr. Kalhor and his qualifications, this is not the Police’s responsibility. But if it has to do with the concert venue, they have to provide evidence to convince the Ministry of Culture that the venue is not suitable.”
Cancellations of concerts featuring female vocalists and musicians have been particularly frequent since Rouhani’s 2013 election.
Iran’s beloved Master of traditional Persian music, Mohammad Reza Shajarian, said at an international gathering in Tehran on May 5, 2015 that he was banned from performing in Iran. “I live in a country where I have not been allowed to sing for my own people for the past several years,” he said.
On June 10, a concert by well-known Iranian musician Parvaz Homay was canceled AFTER the permit was already issued by the Culture Ministry. It would have been Homay’s first performance in Tehran, in eight years. Those who purchased tickets for Homay’s concert received a text message a few hours before it was to begin informing them that the event was called off until further notice following an order by Iran’s judiciary.
The pressure is seen as an attempt by hard-liners to hurt Rohani, who has promised greater cultural and social openness and less censorship.
Here’s is a cool little animation titled “In Light Of Recent Concert Cancellations”
(The language sounds strange because they’re trying to make fun and distort it on purpose!)
“Hey stranger. What do you do for a living?”
“I also play. Who did you learn from?”
“I learned from the master musicians. And you?”
“I’m self-taught. What style do you play?”
“Classical and fusion. And you?”
“I play everything. What do you play with?”
“With this! Now you wanna play some?!”
“Wow…how on time he hits the musician over the head! What a beautiful music!”
The text in the box reads: “Gentlemen in charge! Now that you are unable to stand behind live performances, don’t issue the permits to begin with!”