The documentary, “HAYEDEH, Legendary Persian Diva,” by Pejman Akbarzadeh was screened on Friday, April 3rd, in Aachen, Germany. This is the first documentary which covers the artistic life of a popular singer within the context of the political events and social atmosphere before and after the 1979 revolution in Iran. The film was first screened in January 2009, for an audience of about 200 in Amsterdam; and it is planned to be screened on May 1st at the Noor Film Festival in Los Angeles. The following critique was recently first published in .
A 100-minute documentary, in Persian, with English subtitles, “HAYEDEH, Legendary Persian Diva” was made by Amsterdam-based Pejman Akbarzadeh, pianist, researcher and journalist. Mostafa Heravi is the film’s editor, and Sholeh Zahrai, the camerawoman. One of the most active Persian cultural centers in Germany, “Rahaward” organized the screening of Hayedeh’s documentary in Germany. About 25 people were present for viewing the film, which was a source of bewilderment and disenchantment of the filmmaker and organizers of the event.
Most Persians love Hayedeh’s voice and listen to her songs in their homes. Programs arranged and presented by “Kanoon-e Rahaward” in Aachen are usually met with great enthusiasm. What, then, was the cause of the small attendance at the screening of the film? Could it be the sunny skies of Aachen, where people prefer to spend their time in the outdoors rather than in an enclosed, dark theater? Or screening the film on a Friday night, when many people return home from work, fatigued? Or is it that they believe they already know enough about Hayedeh; is there nothing special that can add to their knowledge? Or perhaps some people associate Hayedeh with the Royal Court of the former Shah, or “Los Angelesi” Music, thus leading them to boycott a film about her?
No one knows the answers to these questions. However, those who were present at the screening were definite admirers of Hayedeh’s voice and songs, even if they did not like all of her work, and even if, in comparison with the singer Ghamar, they view Hayedeh as merely a “pop” singer.
A documentary on Hayedeh’s artistic life, within the context of the social and political circumstances in Iran
Pejman Akbarzadeh, 29, must truly have been in love with his work. In an atmosphere which is indifferent toward history and documentary filmmaking, to the extent that his path was not blocked, Akbarzadeh has searched through archives, viewed videos, held conversations with lyricists, songwriters, conductor, and music critics in order to make a documentary film on Hayedeh. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, he states that he has made this film with minimal support, one being from Radio Zamaneh, where he currently works. As a result, most of the cost of production of the film was carried by himself.
In “Hayedeh, Legendary Persian Diva,” Akbarzadeh familiarizes us with the life and artistic achievements of one of the most popular Persian singers of the 20th century. In the words of conductor, Farnoosh Behzad, she was a singer “whose voice was unequalled in texture.” And, in an interview, Frank Sinatra praised her voice.
Hayedeh (1942-1990), whose real name was Massoumeh Dadehbala, was born in Tehran, and died in exile at age 47. In his film, Pejman Akbarzadeh shows the various periods of Hayedeh’s artistic activities: Starting in 1960s, when she sang her first song in public, but remained unknown, until her discovery by Ali Tajvidi for the “Gol-ha-ye Rangarang” program on Iranian National Radio, followed by her turn to popular music.
In “Hayedeh, Legendary Persian Diva”, emphasis has been laid on the roles of songwriters and lyricists in rendering a song successful, and the significant role which, in their own words, “accidental events” play in the success of a song. We re-acquaint ourselves with the works of Hayedeh within the context of the social, cultural, and political atmosphere of her time. We become aware of the influence of her singing on her private life, of her competitors, the criticisms directed toward her because she had left traditional music and the Gol-ha radio program. And in order to earn a higher income, we learn how she sang in cabarets, which in the eyes of the critics of the Pahlavi period was a manifestation of the Westernization of Iranians. The film reminds us of the disturbing gossip published in the various tabloid Persian magazines of the time, and her relationship, as a singer, with the Royal Court.
We can observe the influence of the revolution on Hayedeh’s artistic activity, which continued in exile, first in London, and later in Los Angeles. Like many Persian singers after the revolution, Hayedeh lost her vast audience. Many of the songs which she sang in exile described the despairing state of Persian emigrants after the revolution. However, alongside that, Hayedeh also turned to singing songs which, according to Parviz Sayyad, actor and director, were “more a response to the needs of the market rather than true art”.
Hayedeh’s Music Helped in the “Discovery of the Essence of Music”
The filmmaker of “Hayedeh, Legendary Persian Diva” is himself a pianist. Born in Shiraz in 1980, Pejman Akbarzadeh began taking piano lessons at the age of nine. At 15, he began to research the artistic activities of Persian musicians of the 20th century. In the year 2000, the first volume of his research was published, with the title, “Persian Musicians,” which is now used for research purposes in various publications, such as Encyclopedia Iranica. From 2001 to 2005, Akbarzadeh wrote for reformist newspapers in Tehran, Yas-e No and Shargh, both of which have now been shut down . He has also written for magazines such as Persian Heritage, published in New Jersey, and he has prepared cultural reports for the BBC. Pejman Akbarzadeh is presently working with Radio Zamaneh in the Netherlands. He has performed piano recitals in Holland and Germany, the last of which was in 2008 at the University of Cologne.
In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Akbarzadeh speaks of his personal bond with the voice and songs of Hayedeh, and its influence on his own understanding and growth in music, “Despite the fact that I was working on classical music, in the course of these years, something had been working unconsciously in me, which is very interesting. Now that I think about it, I realize what that was. When I heard Hayedeh’s voice and was greatly influenced by it, this had an effect on my own musicality. I came to understand the extent to which one can influence and transform people with music and voice. Hayedeh’s voice had a great influence on my own performance; that is how the feeling that her voice had instilled in me, which is being reflected in my own music. This is something that I came to understand only later. In effect, this voice, which I had heard ever since my childhood, had shown me the essence of music.”
The significance of documentary filmmaking for artists
The work of Pejman Akbarzadeh is new, and the audience at the question-and-answer session after the screening of the film, “Hayedeh, Legendary Persian Diva” in Aachen expressed their joy on this account.
In the interview, with regard to the significance of such documentary films for the Persian culture and society, Akbarzadeh said: “I think that the music which is broadcast through the media to the people gradually habituates them to that style of music. If the level of music which we present is gradually lowered, the audience’s taste is lowered along with it. However, when such works are documented, people come, see and hear that such great voices in Persian music existed, such great songwriting, such great lyrics, such great arrangements… then when a lower level of work is presented to them, they no longer accept the piece. As a result, music producers are forced to raise the quality of music so that the people would accept it.”
In Pejman Akbarzadeh’s view, documentary films can also demonstrate the effect which political and social upheavals have on the works of a performer. “Hayedeh, Legendary Persian Diva” shows such influences on Hayedeh’s artistic activities. And finally, Pejman speaks of his goal in resisting the prevalent culture of “hero worship.” He says, “Usually, the fans of singers such as Googoosh and Hayedeh, who are among the most popular Persian singers, cannot bear to hear that there exists negative sides to these people’s lives, or that the artists have made mistakes. On the other hand, the people who are against these singers are not prepared to accept that there also exists positive aspects in their work. I want to present the idea of not viewing artists as supermen or women. That is, that they too, are humans like us. The greatest composers in the world have a series of first-class works, which are being performed to this day. But they also have lower level works which have been forgotten. Our singers are no exception to this rule. We must face everything a little more openly.”
Pejman Akbarzadeh himself has succeeded in seeing matters more openly. Although he has emphasized Hayedeh’s works which are becoming eternal in Persian music, his personal devotion to her has not prevented him from seeing her works which are subject to criticism, as well as some negative aspects of her career.