It's a great or terrible day, depending on who you ask, as the United States and a number of nations have come to an agreement with Iran to keep an eye on the latter's nuclear program while lifting sanctions that have been in place since 1979. Granted, this isn't exactly going to make us best-buddies. There are plenty in the Shia superpower who still see America as an evil empire, so we can't say we'll be first in line to go on vacation in Iran. That said, many Americans need to realize that culture in the country isn't as backward as many would have you believe. This isn't al-Qaeda operatives living in caves...Iranian culture is vibrant and quite healthy 'n' wealthy. Accordingly, they've got a pop music scene on par with many non-Western nations. Here are five stars, still residing in Iran, that hopefully you'll be able to see soon enough (should you choose).
We're not going to give Iran's arts scene an 100 percent clean bill of health. Truly, many voices were silenced as a result of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the rise of the strong theocracy within its republic. Googoosh was one of the most popular vocalists in Iranian pop music prior to the revolution and happened to be in Los Angeles when it occurred. She stayed put, knowing that her career would be illegal in Iran—both because of her gender and her material. She missed home soon enough and ended up sacrificing her career to move back to Tehran, living for more than 20 years with performing in public. After a documentary, Googoosh: Iran's Daughter, gained popularity, she decided to launch a comeback, playing show around the world (but not in Iran). Shows in the region around her homeland, such as Dubai, drew thousands of Iranians to travel and see the national icon perform.
Don't let Googoosh's struggles let you think that Iran has refused to allow any Western music thrive in the nation. Instead, the government has realized that it would have more effective control if it allowed permitted artists to perform freely. That includes hip-hop emcees, including Yas, the first rapper authorized by the authorities. Part of his appeal to the government is the way that he uses traditional Iranian poetic forms for inspiration (along with Tupac Shakur, whom he cites at the primary influence behind his favorite genre). His status as a formally-approved emcee has made him a somewhat fascinating specimen for Western media, earning him interviews with CNN, the BBC and others, as well as a single featuring Yas.
Although Yas may have been the first rapper to get a formal nod from the government, Hichkas is probably the most successful. Known as the "godfather" of Iranian hip-hop, he serves as a member of the "supergroup" 021 (the area code for Tehran) and has even branched out to work with American performers such as Kool G Rap of Juice Crew fame. So what sets him apart from the other emcees? Does he spit bars that shock and awe, like an Iranian Eminem? Nope. Hichkas' style is noted by publications in his homeland for incorporating Iranian traditional music, as well as taking theistic and nationalistic approaches to issues. Sounds like...the opposite of American hip-hop. Oh well...if a flow is good, a flow is good.
Electronic music in Iran has dealt with "brain-drain" as much as any other genre due to the government's conservative approach to the arts. That said, a few DJs have found that they can stay successfully internationally without leaving home. The best example is Masoud, a trance DJ who has made friends with legendary producer Ferry Corsten and current trance superstar Armin van Buuren among others. Having friends in big places on the international scene is huge in EDM, regardless where you come from, as pals are likely to share your tracks on the podcasts and radio programs that nearly all DJs host. Masoud can spread his music all over thanks to the internet, as he hosts The Caspian Sessions on Afterhours.FM (for foreign fans), as well as a podcast on the official Iranian entertainment site.
Heavy metal might seem like the least-likely genre to get approval from a religious authority, but somehow Angband has pulled it off. It probably helps that the band showcases elements of Persian culture, such as Apadana—a massive hall in fifth Century Persian city Persepolis—which might come across as nationalistic, even if it has nothing to do with the nation's current Islamic status. Then again, the band's most recent album, Saved From The Truth, sure sounds like the snarky shot at government that progressive rockers are known for. Let's see how long they can keep this up.