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Farah al-Zaman Shawki

Young musicians take to the streets of Tehran

Street musicians on the street of Tehran are growing in number [Farah al-Zaman Shawqi]

Date of publication: 6 April, 2015

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Feature: Young Iranians are revelling in the relatively new and increasingly popular tradition of street music.

Whether the sky is clear and sunny or overcast with rainclouds, whether it is blisteringly hot or freezing cold, a section of Iranian young people will go to the streets close to Cinema Azadi in Tehran and play music. The number of these musical groups have recently started to grow in number so much they have become a familiar sight for Iranians in the streets of the capital.

Bands of friends

The groups are mostly made up of between two to five young university graduates under the age of 35, who have been brought together by their love for music.

It was difficult because many people criticized him and told him "You studied music so you could busk in the street?"

Bamdad Mohammadzadeh plays pop music on his guitar and is part of a band of three. He was one of the first musicians who were brave enough to take to the streets when this busking phenomenon began around six years ago.

Mohammadzadeh said at first it was difficult because many people criticized him and told him "You studied music so you could busk in the street?" But the young guitarist has managed to get an official licence to release his first album which will come out soon. He said he considered that a big achievement.

Mohammadzadeh said in Iran, music must stay clear of controversial issues such as politics. He considers his street listeners equally as important as the patrons of exclusive clubs.

Film student Barham plays the flute in a small band and goes to perform on the street almost every day. He said "It makes me feel like I am living a free life. What's better than living the way you love?"

Barham said the number of street musicians had increased dramatically in recent years, "This is a positive thing because it brings the streets to life with good vibes. Lots of people can't go to music shows because of the high price of tickets, but anyone can come to these shows." He encouraged people to "listen to real music, whether it's western or Iranian, because it will make them feel in a way they have never felt before."

Barham added, "Playing music in the street helps musicians get to know each other and collaborate with each other and develop their music. It also introduces people to new genres of music up close and improves their musical knowledge, opening the doors of creativity." Iranians' love and enthusiasm for listening to street artists has increased the popularity of these bands.

Some street musicians make a little bit of money to help with their school fees and add to their allowances through busking. Before these street bands became common, solo street musicians would play simple traditional instruments for their livelihoods. They would move through alleyways and residential areas, knocking on doors or playing in crowded places such as markets and train and bus stations.

Iranians forget about their long tiring days when they walk past these bands and hear their music.
- Musa

In crowded Tajrish Square in north Tehran, a woman picks up a flyer for a band made up of a young woman and two young men saying "This is great to see. Street music is not just for men. Lots of Iranian women are talented musicians. We shouldn't just show this flyer to the heart of Iranian society but to the whole world."

A welcome distraction

Street musician Musa said, "Iranians forget about their long tiring days when they walk past these bands and hear their music. A lot of these musicians can't get shows in clubs so we try to support them here in the street."

Iranians are well aware of the difficulties facing this subculture of young people who are in need of support from the government. Artist Jamal Hadian has written a letter to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, calling on officials to "support and take interest in innovative artists and musicians because they have filled the streets with joy and indirectly made Iranians love music more." He said the doors must be opened for these young people to take part in well-known music festivals such as the Fajr Music Festival.

Many Iranians think this new phenomenon continue because it shows another side of Iranian society and the ingenuity of these Iranians who have made a space for themselves, even if it is on the streets.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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