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Iran rocks
Honar nazd e Iranian ast o bas, even if that honar belongs to the West

By Nima Kasraie
June 17, 2002
The Iranian

While it may seem like every new Western Rock band is made up of angry punks railing against a world they think owes them something, there are some groups who have the maturity to be introspective and melodic, even when rocking.

This is where the Iranian Rock band Pezhvak fits in. Their early work was Rock tunes mixed with their own creations. Butr their latest work shows a group that has begun defining a new age in music for Iran and a new generation of brilliant self bred Rock virtuosos from a place least expected: The Islamic Republic of Iran.

During my recent visit to Tehran, I was invited to a rock concert. It was part of Pezhvak's three-day tour. The concert was to be performed at Talar e Harkat (owned by Tehran's Traffic and Transportation Organization) at the southern tip of Kurdistan Freeway.

8 PM, May 16th 2002.

A crowd of a few hundred people stood outside a theater as Tehran's rush hour fizzled out. I expected a much larger crowd given the size of Iran's Rock-mad population. A small ad in Hamshahri newspaper was their only form of publicity. Later I was told that half the crowd were themselves rock artists and musicians. Perhaps the authorities intentionally wanted it that way to keep the crowd small and safe, I thought.

Rumor was that the band was composed of Iran's most talented young musicians specialized in Rock music. I had heard of Rock bands in Tehran performing heavy metal music. But this was the first state-authorized Rock concert.

Avaleen Nafas was the first song with the spotlight on Farzad Fakhroddini, one of Pezhvak's two guitarists, a celebrity within the country's small but fervently growing Rock guitarist community. His style was clearly influenced by Joe Satriani and John Petrucci. The opening act had a noticeably Hendrix flavor but very well performed.

The bass guitarist was admirably well versed in his art, especially for a live performance amid fears of attacks by pressure groups opposed to Western influences. Had I not known Kasra Saboktekeen, I would have expected his unbelievable dominant-but-not-indulgent bass riffs to be the work of Billy Sheehan himself!

Another focal point of the performance was (what seemed to be) band leader Amir Tavassoli, deemed as the Lars Ulrich of Iran. As he led the audience through the concert, looking at his dignified yet masterful act, I couldn't help thinking what Iran's 40 million strong young population could do, if only they all had the chance to nurture and develop their God-given talents in every possible field. Honar nazd e Iranian ast o bas, even if that honar belongs to the West.

Hamid Tavassoli, Amir's brother, was on keyboards, in the position of what Jordan Rudess is in Dream Theater, perhaps even inspired by Jordan. Rumor was that these guys worked part time for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (state radio and TV), writing and producing tunes and openings for some of IRIB's radio and TV productions.

Milad e Zendehnam was the other guitarist of the band, intermittently taking center stage of each act, showing off his prowess in his mastery of his David Gilmorish style. To top the cake was Naveed Zolfaghar, the percussionist giving them a jazzy feeling, complimenting Tavassoli's beats.

"Ma'mooreeyat e Momken" may not exactly be the band's version of Mission Impossible, but it was just as touching and poignant, and perhaps one of few acts in which their sound dipped into metal territory. It was here when the auditorium went wild with one side of the audience madly screamed and shouted as if at a Pantera gig in London, while the other side clapped and whistled like in a typical aroosee (wedding) party! Not so much of a harmonic match (but very funny), I thought.

The other acts were a clear indication of how the band is finding its own unique sound as it attracts bigger audiences and progresses into maturity. Sometimes jazz, sometimes Frank Zappa, sometimes Dream Theater, their music was a mix of their inspirations and creations. Their talent was unquestionable.

The fact that the concert was itself allowed to be performed, must by all means be considered a great feat. This is not Iran of fice years ago, where your Lion King CD would be confiscated by customs official the airport. In today's Iran, we see books printed in Farsi about Guns n Roses and Pink Floyd in front of the Tehran University's book bazaar. There's also state-sanctioned albums with selected works of The Beatles, Joe Satriani, Sanata, The Gypsy Kings, Al Di Meola, Steve Vai, and Era, among many others. At 600 tomans (80 US cents), I found a copy of Native American music to be a real bargain.

In a Voice of America program, when asked if one day he would perform a live concert in Iran for the hundreds of thousands of dedicated fans and lovers of music, Yanni replied: "I hope so. Perhaps in the not so far future that will happen." Today I'm thinking that perhaps we might see Yanni, live, in front of that big wall at the entrance of Persepolis, just like we saw his concert with the Iranian conductor Shardad Rowhani at the Acropolis.

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