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Iran stages first pop festival since revolution

TEHRAN, Feb 7 (AFP) - Live pop music returned to Iran Sunday for the first time in 20 years as the Islamic authorities staged the first in a series of concerts to mark the anniversary of the 1979 revolution.

A huge banner behind the stage proclaimed: "The First Popular Music Festival," over an image of a shooting star with a keyboard in its wake.

The music was Iranian pop rather than its illegal Western counterpart but the instrumentation and heavy percussion showed an unmistakeably Western influence.

Several hundred people crowded into the concert hall in the working class suburbs of south Tehran, but the demand was not overwhelming to see the first officially-sanctioned live pop concert since the revolution.

Perhaps another hundred people stood around outside forlornly having failed to secure a ticket. The crowd was largely drawn from the wealthier districts of north Tehran judging by its dress.

"The (two-dollar) tickets are expensive for people in this part of town," said a girl in the audience who asked not to be named.

"In any case many of the people around here don't like this sort of thing -- the older people prefer traditional or classical music and the younger people prefer genuine Western pop," said the girl in her 20s and herself from north Tehran.

The performer for the opening night, Khashayar Etemadi, is loved by many young people here for the similiarity of his voice to Dariush, a popular pop singer before the revolution, who now lives in exile in Los Angeles.

The emigre Iranian music of California is still banned by the authorities here who regard it as "vulgar."

The local version which they now tolerate has a similar musical accompaniment but the love themes which dominate the lyrics outside Iran are replaced with uplifting poetry.

Two of the backing vocalists and all three violinists were female and there was no attempt to segregate the audience which was made up roughly equally of men and women.

Etemadi insists his music is entirely a product of the Islamic Republic.

"The popular music being performed here is music from today's Islamic Iran, and it is wrong to compare it to imported music," he told the daily Sobh-e-Emrooz ahead of the concert.

He said that the aim of the festival, which runs on to Feb 17, is as a showcase for pop music which is in harmony with "popular values and those of an Islamic society."

His music appeals to some people -- "I wanted to come and see him here because I like his cassettes," said Nemat, a student in his 20s. "I think they'll hold festivals like this every year from now on."

But others say the officially-tolerated pop is a pale version of the real thing.

"You really can't compare the two," said another young girl in the audience. "But it's the event that mattered tonight."


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