BEIRUT – During a tour of Europe last year, Iran’s undisputed master of Persian classical music performed a song with a distinctly modern theme — “Brotherhood in Arms” — calling on Iranians to unite.
The song is one of several composed by Mohammad Reza Shajarian that criticize the Iranian government’s brutal crackdown after disputed presidential elections last year. Tens of thousands of Iranians, among them many artists, have fled the country to avoid imprisonment and even execution.
But political repression also leads to a flowering of the arts, Shajarian said.
“Arts is the language of protest,” Shajarian, 69, said in Lebanon, where he recently performed. “The enemy became a blessing. That is, arts grow when there are pressures, political suffocation and tyranny.”
Persian music dates back to at least the 7th century A.D., when it was restricted to royal courts. By the 20th century, it was performed at small gatherings at the homes of musicians and patrons of the arts. However, it went into decline after the 1960s, giving way to pop music.