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Edited by Annie J. Randall Music, Power, and Politics


Subversion and Countersubversion: Power, Control and Meaning in the New Iranian Pop Music

Laudan Nooshin

Chapter Excerpt

On May 23, 1997, a few weeks after Labour’s historic election victory in Britain, another historic election—presidential this time—took place in Iran just as the country’s Revolution was coming of age. Standing on a platform of greater openness internally and reestablishing Iran’s international relations, Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Khatami was swept to power with an overwhelming mandate that gave a real indication of the extent of public support for change.1 Since 1997, Khatami has initiated a number of reforms in which the most far-reaching have been in the cultural domain. One of the most remarkable developments is that after almost twenty years in which all pop music was officially banned in Iran, there has been a gradual relaxing of government policy in this area, and certain types of pop music have now become legal again.2 As one of the most prominent signifiers of modernity, the reemergence of pop music into the public domain has sparked a complex and highly emotive debate over Iran’s future in an increasingly global world, a debate that draws on a range of discourses, including the role of tradition in modernity and local resistance to global hegemony. This chapter traces the shifting meanings and significance of pop music in Iran over the last twenty- five years, focusing in particular on the implications of the post-1997 changes and the ways in which music and the discourses around music have served as an arena for playing out some of the most contested issues of nationhood, identity, and power. In exploring the various attempts to control pop music and its meanings, the chapter considers the articulation of such meanings through expressions of power and asks how particular types of music acquire subversive potential. In particular, I am interested in what happens when a form of cultural resistance is appropriated by those against whom the resistance was originally directed.3

    * [Footnotes omitted in this excerpt. Please see full book.]


  • Image: Album cover for Ali Reza Assar’s Kooch-e Asheqaneh. Released by Avay-e Barg (Iran) in 1999.

  • Image: Album cover for Shadmehr Aghili’s Dehati. Released by Farsnava, (Iran) in 1999.

  • Audio: “Ghodsian-e Aseman.” Music by Ali Reza Assar, lyrics by Mowlana. From Ali Reza Assar’s album Kooch-e Asheqaneh. Released by Avay-e Barg (Iran) in 1999.

    or right-click to download

  • Audio: “Delkhoshi.” Music by Shadmehr Aghili, lyrics by Mohammad Ali Bahmani. From Shadmehr Aghili’s album Dehati. Released by Farsnava (Iran) in 1999.

    or right-click to download

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