Like the modern music of most cultures, a survey of the modern Iranian pop scene would produce a pretty standard variety of artists and genres. The Iranian music video (“Clip”) shows that broadcast on international satellite networks feature artists performing different styles of music that are found all over the globe: pop, electronic, hip-hop, and rock among others. What makes Iranian pop music different, however, are two main factors: the international nature of the Iranian diaspora, and the Iranian government’s complex relationship with pop music.
The result of these conditions creates a world of Iranian music where just as the styles differ, so do the origins of production of different musics. A music video show could broadcast videos from state-approved artists in Iran, alongside underground artists in Iran, and then follow those clips with music from Iranians producing music in America or Europe.
What results is a diverse world of Iranian music found both online and on satellite television that forces Iranians from all over to face each other and the musical products of their different environments. Although the language of the music is Persian, the styles, subject matter, and even fashion of Persian used can vary across these landscapes.
One of the most internationally known stars of Iranian pop music is Arash Labaf, or as he is known to his fans: Arash. Arash moved to Sweden at a young age and began his pop career in 2005; since then his music has found fans all over the world. This statement is not hyperbole—Arash’s songs do not just resonate with Iranians, but have also brought him to fame in Azerbaijan, India, and across Europe, among other regions of the world.
In June of 2012, Arash was brought onto the Los Angeles-based Tapesh satellite TV channel. Tapesh, in some form or another, has been broadcasting from Los Angeles since 1989, offering a variety of programs created by Iranians in diaspora, yet seen by Americans all over the world. Arash and channel co-founder Alireza Amirghassemi sat down for an interview to discuss the singer’s body of work, his upcoming tour, and a few personal anecdotes. Arguably the most interesting moment of this mostly kitschy interview was Amirghassemi’s very forward statement regarding the improvements in the quality of Arash’s Persian language ability.
At one point, the interviewer essentially tells Arash that he’s delighted with how much Arash’s Persian has improved over the course of his career—a sentiment that seems somewhat pleasant, patronizing, and embarrassingly accurate all at the same time. This moment (not available on the internet, unfortunately) and the moments that follow are not just self-deprecating and candid—on another level, this short exchange serves as a fascinating example of the self-awareness that different but overlapping Iranian cultural spheres have developed.