This is the second part of a series of three posts.

Last time, we talk about the reasons why is not possible for Kiosk to be a rock band on Iran. But far from the Middle East, they are still fighting, in their own way, making music and hoping on a free country.

Upstairs: Ali, Tara, Mohammad. Front: Ardalan, Arash / Photo: LA Weekly

Upstairs: Ali, Tara, Mohammad. Front: Ardalan, Arash / Photo: LA Weekly

Exile

Invasões Bárbaras – Part of the band lives in New York, another part in Toronto. Do you have other activities or can live exclusively on music?

Ardalan Payvar: We all have other full-time jobs besides music…

Arash Sobhani: …except for Tara, who is a professional pianist.

Ardalan: If a band wants to make a living from music, it needs to be touring all year round. Especially with the diminishing interest in buying CDs, bands can’t survive by selling CDs in stores or online anymore. As an Iranian band, this becomes even more difficult since our lyrics are in Farsi and our audience become limited to mostly Iranians, so the number of cities that we can have concerts in is based on the concentration of Iranians in those area.

IB – Since most of Kiosk songs are sung in Farsi, how do you break the language barrier to reach local audiences? Who’s the Kiosk’s audience in America?

Ardalan: Even though our audience consists mostly of Iranians, we see non-Farsi speaking people at our shows as well. Our music is based on Western or more universal styles like, Rock, Blues, Gypsy, so it helps to bridge the language barrier.

Arash: We also try to do one or two cover songs in English to get others involved. We enjoy doing that.

IB – What is the importance to sing in Farsi? Is there a political statement behind it, or it’s just easier since it’s your mother tongue?

Arash: It’s how our brain was wired, we write songs about what occupies our minds and it’s mostly the things related either with Iran directly or comes from an Iranian diaspora’s experience.

Kiosk in action / Photo: radiofarda.com (RFE/RL)

Ardalan: if music is banned, then is rebellious and political to make it / Photo: radiofarda.com (RFE/RL)

IB – We noticed plenty of Iranian bands living abroad, mostly in the United States.

Arash: Yes, in the past few years you can see a whole wave of artists who had to leave Iran: directors, actors, writers, painters and musicians are part of the biggest Iranian exodus in the history. Iran has the highest brain drain rate in the world!

IB – But can we say there’s something like an expat Iranian band scene? Are you guys and other artists working together?

Ardalan: Yes, there are quite a few musicians outside Iran and we have had the pleasure of collaborating with some of them. All the well-established pop musicians left the country right after the revolution and have their own resources, so they perform and record regularly, but the younger new generation of musicians have started leaving Iran in late 90’s and had a more difficult time finding the right tools to survive through their music.

IB – Tara, you were not born in Iran, but is there any pressure of being a woman making forbidden music? Is classical music allowed by the Iranian law, first of all?

Tara Kamangar: I was raised in the United States and have never felt any stigma attached to being a female musician. My parents both studied music privately in Iran and were very encouraging of my decision to pursue music. I grew up listening to some incredible female Iranian performers, such as the hugely popular singers Hayedeh and Googoosh, and the opera singer Monir Vakili who recorded several works by Iranian composer Aminollah Hossein.

Photo: triptyqtrio collection

Tara Kamangar on a concert / Photo: triptyqtrio collection

More recently, I love performing classical piano pieces by female composers such as Delbar Hakim Ava and Golnoush Khaleghi, who had studied music in Austria in the 1960s on scholarship from the Iranian Ministry of Culture. Iran has such a rich musical tradition – historians think that musical exchange began in this region as early as 4,000 B.C. – and it is a privilege to study it.

My understanding is that there is nothing written in Iranian law regarding classical music, and performances of western classical music regularly occur in Iran. Music is not directly mentioned in the Koran, although Islamic scholars have interpreted some Koranic verses as prohibiting music, which has contributed to the low social status of musicians in Iran since the advent of Islam. This stigma began to lessen in the past two centuries through the efforts of pioneers such as Ali-Naqi Vaziri, who also started the first music school for women in 1925.

IB – I saw you on a documentary, saying receive letters from girls. What do you think it means, for they, to see an Iranian woman on stage, making music?

Tara: Women in Iran are currently not allowed to sing on stage for male audience members not related to them, but there are so many active, talented female musicians in Iran, performing, recording, and distributing their music via the internet despite the governmental restrictions. I think they are happy to see Iranian women collaborating and performing freely on stage with guys who are fully respectful and supportive.

Tara: "Powerful female role models are a terrific way to counteract negative stereotyping" / Photo: Eyené

“Powerful female role models are a terrific way to counteract negative stereotyping” / Photo: Eyené

IB – What is the importance of female models, like Marjane Satrapi, to combat prejudice against Islamic woman?

Tara: Powerful and congenial female role models are a terrific way to counteract negative stereotyping by the media. Your question referred to “Islamic women,” but it is also important to remember that Iranian women may also be Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, or Baha’i, for instance, or of no organized faith. You mentioned Marjane Satrapi: she has explained in an interviewer for “Believer” magazine that she belongs to no religion.

IB – I’m sorry, “Islamic Women” was not an appropriate translation, but it ended up bringing me an interesting answer. Even professing different religions, or just no religion, is there any Western prejudice to the woman born in the Middle East? Do you have different challenges in terms of respect or recognition?

Tara: I was the only girl of Middle Eastern descent in my community growing up and did feel like an outsider at times, but never experienced different challenges in terms of respect or recognition. But I can’t speak for others who grew up in the West in different places and different times.

IB – Do you guys think an artistic expression is also a political demonstration?

Ardalan: I don’t believe that all artistic expression is political, but for a lot of Iranian artists/musicians, since almost anything that we do is banned by our government in one way or another, it comes across as rebellious and political.  And that’s not say that our lyrics are not intentionally political.

IB – Social networks are strong enough to break the blockade? Does Kiosk’s music reach people in Iran?

Arash: Our music reaches Iran thanks to technology. With dictatorships, the thing is: they are idiots! And they’re easily defeated by technology. So, social media and the fact that you can electronically transfer music works to our advantage.

 

Soon, the third part.

You can read the first one here.