Shahin Najafi's "Naghi": A Translation and Discussion


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Lover of Iran
by Lover of Iran
10-May-2012
 

It goes without saying that Shahin Najafi’s “Naghi” is a highly controversial song, as indicated by the fact that a Shi’ah cleric in Qom—Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani—issued a death sentence against Najafi shortly after release of Naghi. Additionally, shia-online.ir has put a $100,000 bounty on Najafi’s head (link). The song has obviously piqued the interest of many Iranians, considering the official YouTube video has amassed over 130,000 hits less than 72 hours after its release (link). Al Arabiya News is calling Najafi “the Salman Rushdie of music.” (link)

Since I firmly believe that Naghi will go down in Iranian history, I decided to try my hand at a translation of it into English. However, almost every verse refers to something Iran-specific and thus requires an explanation for non-Iranians. I’ve attempted to give what I think is the proper context for most of Najafi’s verses below. Perhaps we can start a discussion about this song and what each of us believes the below verses to mean.

The original Persian lyrics: http://www.iransong.com/song/65663.htm

The song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rDXhjIN030

Translated lyrics

Naghi [1], I swear on your sense of humor

On this exile who thinks he’s here to criticize [2]

On the large penis that gives life

That sits behind us and threatens us

I swear on the length and width of [Western-imposed] sanctions

On the rising value of the dollar and the feeling of humiliation [3]

Naghi, I swear on the cardboard Imam [Khomeini] [4]

On the baby [Khamenei] who was saying “Ali!” while stuck in his mother’s womb [5]

On the teaching of jurisprudence in the room where nose jobs are given [6]

On Khamenei, the prayer beads and prayer rugs made in China [7]

Naghi, I swear on the finger of Sheys Rezaei [8]

On the religion that has been kicked out and religious soccer [9]

O Naghi, now that the Hidden Imam is asleep, we call upon you, O Naghi [10]

Appear, for we are ready in our burial shrouds, O Naghi [11]

O Naghi, now that the Hidden Imam is asleep, we call upon you, O Naghi

Appear, for we are ready in our burial shrouds, O Naghi

Naghi, I swear on love and Viagra

On raised legs and chakras

On sangak bread [12] and chicken and meat and fish

On silicon chests and striped virginity [13]

Naghi, I swear on Golshifteh’s breasts [14]

On lost prestige that we never had [15]

Naghi, I swear on Aryan heritage [16]

On the necklace that you wear around your neck [17]

Naghi, [I give] my life for Farnood’s penis [18]

For the 3 billion dollars, soon forgotten like a children’s story [19]

And the Persian Gulf and [Lake] Orumiyeh, too [20]

Oh by the way, what was the name of the leader of the Green Movement? [21]

O Naghi, now that the Hidden Imam is asleep, we call upon you, O Naghi

Appear, for we are ready in our burial shrouds, O Naghi

O Naghi, now that the Hidden Imam is asleep, we call upon you, O Naghi

Appear, for we are ready in our burial shrouds, O Naghi

O Naghi, O Naghi, O Naghi

O Naghi, O Naghi, O Naghi

On the anniversary of the death of that old fart, Imam of the [Shi’ah] community [22]

On the fossilized opposition in the diaspora [23]

On the classy widows who frequent discos

On the intellectual discussions in chat rooms

On the dissolute men with a false sense of honor [24]

On the women who defend men’s rights [25]

On the color revolution in the television [26]

On the 3% of the [Iranian] population who read books [27]

On the wishy-washy, empty slogans [28]

Naghi, I swear on this crowd of fickle people

Who in the morning say “Long live…!” but at night say “Death to…!” [29]

On the heroes of fictional stories

O Naghi, now that the Hidden Imam is asleep, we call upon you, O Naghi

Appear, for we are ready in our burial shrouds, O Naghi

O Naghi, now that the Hidden Imam is asleep, we call upon you, O Naghi

Appear, for we are ready in our burial shrouds, O Naghi

O Naghi, O Naghi, O Naghi

O Naghi, O Naghi, O Naghi

Ohhhhhhhhhh Naghi

________________________________________

Contextual notes:

[1] Ali al-Hadi, also known as Ali an-Naghi, was the 10th of the Twelve Imams of Shi’ah Islam. According to the Shi’ah tradition, Imam Naghi was the grandfather of the Hidden Imam (see note 10 for more info on this).

[2] There is an Iranian phrase, lengesh kon, which is used to label armchair criticism. The phrase essentially means, “Come on, bring him down already!” and the expression has its roots in wrestling. It refers to a specific move where a wrestler grabs the opponent’s thigh to drop him to the floor/wrestling mat. The phrase that Najafi uses in the original is “biroon az gowd,” which literally means “outside the [wrestling] ring/arena,” typically found in “houses of strength” (zur-khānehs, traditional Persian gymnasiums) and is a metaphorical reference to members of the Iranian diaspora who criticize Iranians living inside Iran for not persisting in their protests against their government. With this remark, Najafi is casting a spotlight on Iranian armchair critics and is calling them out on their cowardice. The Encyclopedia Iranica has an in-depth article on zur-khānehs here: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/zur-kana

[3] Inside Iran, the value of the dollar has appreciated at a phenomenal rate while their own currency (rials and tomans) has plummeted to the verge of worthlessness. Indeed, many Iranians talk about how when it comes to luxury items (e.g. high-class cars), the vendors will only accept payment in the form of dollars and will refuse to transact using Iranian currency on account of its spiraling depreciation.

[4] This is a reference to the celebration of the 33rd anniversary of Khomeini’s arrival in Iran, which signaled an end to 2,500 years of Persian monarchy and the inauguration of a theocratic government. On this particular anniversary, the Iranian government sponsored a reenactment of the historic moment where Khomeini disembarked from an Air France plane and arrived in Tehran. The star of this reenactment was a cardboard cutout of Khomeini. The event was ridiculed and mocked by all sorts of press. David Goodman wrote a piece covering the reenactment and the reaction towards it on the New York Times: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/02/cardboard-cutouts-of-khomeini-are-mocked-online/

[5] This is a reference to a remark made by the Friday prayer leader of Qom (Ayatollah Muhammad Sa’idi) last year, where after recounting an historical Shi’ah narrative, he claims that Ali Khamenei—the Supreme Leader of Iran—came out of his mother’s womb saying, “Ya Ali!” (“O Ali!”). Ali was the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, and Shi’ah Muslims consider him to be the first of the Twelve Imams and the rightful successor to Muhammad. The video of Ayatollah Sa’idi’s sermon can be viewed online here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w_VocORRPg

[6] This is a quip about the ubiquity of nose jobs in Iran. In fact, many people say that Iran leads the world in nose job per capita. My take on this verse is that Najafi is juxtaposing the phenomenon of nose jobs in Iran—which women get so frequently because they’re forced to cover everything else, and the nose thus remains their most prominent feature—with the clerics’ desire to instill religious faith and fervor through jurisprudence classes. I think Najafi is ultimately trying to say that Iranian youth don’t care about Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), and are instead more concerned with perfecting the parts of their bodies which government-imposed religion has, for now, left untouched. Essentially, it’s a message of rebellion against force-fed religion.

[7] This remark underscores the fact that Iran is importing a huge amount of their commodities from China—even down to the religious items, like prayer beads and rugs.

[8] Sheys Rezaei is an Iranian soccer player who was banned from the Persepolis team for slapping the buttocks of his teammate, Persepolis defender Mohammad Nosrati, and fingering his anus during a goal-scoring celebration against the Damash Gilan team. The Iranian government denounced this as an “immoral act,” and he did not return to the team until early 2012. The BBC covered this incident here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15533927 And there is a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWoresMpHTA

[9] Here, Najafi is both ascribing a general indifference towards religion to the people of Iran while also acknowledging that the sport of soccer itself has become a totally government-owned and regulated activity (hence the mixing of religion, an integral part of the Iranian government, with soccer).

[10] The Hidden Imam (also known as the Twelfth Imam or Mahdi) is the central figure of Islamic eschatology and is the equivalent of the second coming of Christ in Christian eschatology. According to the Shi’ah narrative, the Hidden Imam was born in 869 CE and went into occultation in 874 at only 5 years of age, when he assumed the Imamate. When he returns, it is believed that he will bring justice and peace by establishing Islam throughout the world.

[11] Muslims typically wrap the dead in burial shrouds—usually made of white cotton or linen—before depositing them in their graves. It’s a satire against the religious zealots who boast that they are ready to die for a cause that they often don’t even understand.

[12] “Nan-e Sangak” is an Iranian kind of whole wheat, sourdough flatbread that is baked in an oven on a bed of hot tiny river stones. The word “sangak” means “little stone” or “pebble,” and these would cling to the bread due to the nature of the baking process. This is a picture of sangak bread: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/e/e0/Nan_sangak.jpg

[13] I’m not entirely sure what Najafi means here by striped virginity, but I do have two theories:

(A) The first theory pertains to the belief that exists among some ultraconservative Iranians which states that a woman will go to heaven if she dies a virgin (if I am wrong about this and the details that follow, someone please correct me). These super-traditional Iranians (usually prison guards) try to prevent this from happening by raping the convicted women so that they will be “guilty” of adultery, and will not go to heaven as a result. Obviously, this is just a pretext for having sex. Placed in this context, the idea of “striped virginity” conjures up the image of a girl, clad in a typically striped prison uniform, who is about to lose the only thing keeping her alive in the eyes of the Iranian government: her virginity. Hence, a link is established between “stripes”, AKA the girl’s prison uniform, and her virginity.

(B) The second theory, which is actually not mine but a friend’s, considers the “striped virginity” to be a girl’s hymen—which of course, when penetrated, marks the loss of her virginity. Taken in this light, perhaps Najafi’s remark is some kind of allusion to hymenorrhaphy—a surgical procedure whereby a girl’s hymen is surgically restored. This reconstruction of an “artificial virginity” would at the very least be related to the theme of artificiality inherent in this particular verse, since Najafi also mentions a chest of silicon, which to most women is the apex of superficiality. However, I have no idea where the “striped” part of the verse would come into play when considering this theory.

[14] This is a reference to the Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, who posed nude for the French magazine Madame Le Figaro at the beginning of 2012. Upon discovering this, the Iranian government sent her a communication telling her that she would not be allowed to return to Iran. Farahani’s nude photograph was the subject of much controversy among Iranians for several weeks. The Telegraph covered this incident here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/9023031/Iranian-actress-banned-from-homeland-after-naked-magazine-shoot.html

[15] This is a quip about the status of aberoo —which could mean honor, prestige, or saving face—in Iranian society. Najafi is criticizing people who never really had prestige or honor, even though they thought they did.

[16] Iranians believe that they are descendants of the Aryans (nejād-e ārīyā’ī) and many of them take great pride in what they believe to be a heritage replete with heroism and magnanimous kings (e.g. Cyrus the Great and his freedom of the Jews from Babylon; his “Cyrus Cylinder,” believed by some to be the first charter of human rights; etc.).

[17] Based on the patriotic context of the previous line, I believe that this is a reference to the pelāk-e Farvahar, which is a necklace that sports the ancient Zoroastrian icon of the Farvahar. It is typically worn by Iranians who are proud of their heritage. More on the Farvahar at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farvahar

[18] This is a reference to an incident that occurred on an Iranian children’s television show last year, when the hostess of the program asked the “audience”—composed entirely of kindergarteners, and perhaps even younger—what sorts of activities they could perform on their own without any help from others. One of the boys, who identifies himself only as Farnood (and was later dubbed “Farnood-e Rāstgoo,” or “Farnood the Truthful,” by some Iranians), answers the question by innocently stating that he goes to the bathroom and washes his penis all by himself. At first, the hostess didn’t catch what Farnood said; but as soon as it hits her, she rejects his response on the air by saying “No no no, that’s not right!” Many Iranians considered this an issue of censorship against an innocent child who, as far as they were concerned, had no lewd or provocative intent in his response and was merely answering the hostess’s question. There is a video of this incident here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dw74MwGcAvc

[19] I am fairly sure that this is a reference to Amir Mansour Khosravi (also known as Mahafarid Amir Khosravi or Amir Mansour Aria), the former finance minister of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom the Iranian parliament found guilty of embezzling $2.6 billion last year. This incident is believed to be the biggest banking fraud in Iran’s history. Here is one report on the fraud: http://www.payvand.com/news/11/oct/1273.html

The reference to a “children’s story” comes from the fact that this verse, translated literally, says “3 billion [dollars] under the blue dome.” The blue dome refers to the sky, and is a reference to the Persian phrase yeki bood yeki nabood, zir-e gonbad-e kabood which is essentially the equivalent of “once upon a time” (lit. There once was, there once was not, under the blue dome/sky). This phrase is a preface to all common children’s stories written in Persian. Thus, Najafi is comparing the banking fraud to a children’s story, as if to say that despite the gravity of this incident, people were invited by Khamenei to “forget about it” and “not to prolong or dwell on the discussion publicly.”

[20] In the same vein as the previous reference, he is criticizing the Iranian tendency to blow up “natonalistic causes,” such as the labeling of their nearby gulf as the Persian Gulf vs. the Arabian Gulf, and the drying up of Lake Orumiyeh, which is vital to economy of the city of Orumiyeh and surrounding cities.

[21] Similar in nature to the previous two lines. Najafi is indicating that people have forgotten about the Green Movement to the extent where they can’t remember the name of its leader (implying Mir Hossein Mousavi?): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009%E2%80%932010_Iranian_election_protests

[22] This is a reference to a faux pas made by an Iranian television host on the air in 2009, when instead of describing the death of Imam Khomeini as heart-rendering (jān-sooz), he accidentally said “heart fart” (jān-gooz). There is a video of this incident on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnQmdT9XmVk

[23] I think this is a reference to older Iranian politicians in the diaspora who have been unsuccessfully fighting the Islamic Republic for over 30 years.

[24] This is an attack on Iranian men who believe themselves to have a sense of honor (when it comes to defending the honor of their wife, girlfriend, sister, or mother), while at the same time they engage in dishonorable acts, such as cavorting with prostitutes.

[25] I believe this is a reference to a particular episode of an Iranian talk show, when the guest was an ultraconservative Muslim woman who was advocating the religiously-sanctioned subjugation of women in comparison to the “station” of their husbands, and was ultimately defending men’s rights to whatever the Qur’an supposedly entitled them when it comes to marriage. However, I only vaguely remember seeing this and can’t find it on YouTube. If anyone knows what I’m talking about—or if I’m way off base here—please contribute!

[26] This might be Najafi musing on how some revolutions in the past have adopted colors as an essential characteristic (i.e. “color revolutions”). Obviously, there is green with the Iranian Green Movement, but there was also the Shah’s White Revolution, the Purple Revolution in Iraq, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, to name a few. More information about color revolutions is available on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colour_revolution

[27] It looks like Najafi is attacking a general disinclination to reading books among Iranians. Iranians have, as a whole, lost interest in reading books because their government has censored and banned the majority of worthwhile literature.

[28] I think Najafi is criticizing the litany of anti-regime slogans that Iranian protesters have devised over the years, which—although clever—really didn’t do a whole lot for their cause in the end. The word he uses to describe the slogans, ābakī, literally means “watery,” by which he probably intends to convey the slogans as ineffective rallying cries that are devoid of any real power.

[29] This is probably a reference to protesters during the premiership of Mohammad Mossadegh, when one group would often pour into the streets shouting “Long live Mossadegh!” in the morning, whereas in the evenings (or afternoons) another group would shout “Death to Mossadegh, long live the Shah!” With this remark, Najafi is classifying Iranian protestors in general as nothing more than mere bandwagoners with a whimsical sense of loyalty that is as flimsy as the wind.


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Arash Kamangir

I am only concerned about the fatwa

by Arash Kamangir on

Regardless what shahin has said or "meant", I am only concerned about the Fatwa. It is a good opportunity to turn this case against mullah regime and bring this case to the attention of world media. We cannot let a regime get away with killing opponents in the name of religeon. Salman Rushdi is still seen as symbol of "freedom against tyranny" and Shahin will be seen the same.


Jahanshah Javid

Naghi

by Jahanshah Javid on

Thank you for your excellent translation and notes. It should also be noted that the reference to Naghi is not just the Shia saint. It is no coincidence that in the past year or so there has been a cartoonish Naghi who has left quite an impact on the online community with his satirical look on religion:
https://www.facebook.com/Emam.Naghi


Siavash300

Great job with explanation

by Siavash300 on

Thanks for all the efforts. I am just shocked that our great nation with such a great history became enslaves of bunch of stinky mullahs for 32 years.


mousa67

a fitting tribute to all shia imams, clregy & ahmadinejads

by mousa67 on

very nicely put and said. with young men like this iran has  good future ahead of her.


Soosan Khanoom

That is fantastic ... THANK YOU

by Soosan Khanoom on

You certainly did a great job.  The more I listen and read and think about this song the less I find it offensive to Islam.  He started with mentioning Naghi's sense of humor which actually suggests no insult ! He just painted the political and cultural landscape of Iran and criticize them.  Something that we all do. Everything he said is being said on the daily basis inside Iran, between friends, and even between strangers for example in the bus or in a taxi.  ...

THAT FATVA APPLIES TO ALL OF US IRANIANS  !!

Dear Lover of Iran, thanks again for this wonderful job .... loved it ...  

 

 

 

 


P_T_B_A

Thank you...

by P_T_B_A on

O Lover of Iran! Fantastic job you did with this translation.


vildemose

Fantastic Job. Thank you

by vildemose on

Fantastic Job. Thank you and khasteh nabashi.

 

All Oppression Creates a State of War--Simone De Beauvoir


Azarbanoo

Thanks for the Translation

by Azarbanoo on

which I understood it much better.  However I think you must Translate this verse:

On silicon chests and striped virginity [13]  As:

On silicon breasts and striped virginity [13]