Nicky Nodjoumi, Visual Artist

 

“M” 
Underground Musician living in the USA

Fleeing from Iran and exiled in the United States, this musician requested that we keep his identity private as he fears for the safety of his family living in Iran.  We will refer to him as “M”.

“M” was born in 1981 in the early post revolution era and in midst of Iran-Iraq war while his hometown was under missile attack by Iraq.  He was raised in a middle middle-class family in the Western part of Tehran.   “M” started playing Tonbak ( an Iranian percussion ) at the age of 9 and performed Iranian traditional music for years, but at the same time since his uncles used to listen to western pop and rock music he always had a thing for Western music.  From then on he had a passion to play drums. At the age of 16 while in high school, A1 acquired a drumset and played with his friends. By then Western Pop, Rock and even Heavy metal was very popular among my generation.  It was a time when Mr. Khatami was president and the reformist movement was in power so they were more exposed to different cultures not just our own. By then he knew he wanted to be a drummer and would do anything for play his music. Back then even finding a drum store in Tehran was next to impossible with no drum schools and Internet.  He just taught himself how to play in the first couple of years just by watching videos of bands like Metallica, Nirvana, Pink Floyd.

He became more serious with drums even though he didn’t study music in college. A1 studied Metallurgy at Tehran Azad University.  His parents thought he would become an engineer, but he became a professional musician after graduating.  He played with lots of underground bands. The underground music movement gained a lot of popularity in that era with less pressure from the reformist government and magic of Internet.

In 2003 following the massive earthquake in the city of Bam, a group of students in Tehran Art University put together a charity concert held at Farabi Hall.  He and the band in which he was a member at the time were invited to play at this concert.  It was there that A1 got to know another band with which he fell in love and that shaped his life for the next coming years.

“M” explained that the issue in Iran for artists is the way the Islamic Republic works.  “It has created this atmosphere where almost ANY person can cause you trouble as long as what you do can be described as “Un-ISLAMIC” or against “PUBLIC order and DIGNITY”.  With this pretext, ANYTHING you do can cause problems.  Having “late night parties”, “playing  Western music”, even “listening to loud music in your car” ,”having non-marital sex”….. you name it ANYTHING.  But the problem is that none of this is WRITTEN LAW.  It has become a sort of a COMMON LAW. But in reality common people don’t like this but the people who have the power like the police, Basij, Government officials, or anyone who is sympathetic with the Regime’s beliefs will use this “common law”.  They impose their beliefs on you. This is the reason you may see very different pictures from Iran, because you never know when doing what you do is gonna get you in trouble. You can walk with your partner on the street hand in hand for years and nothing happens but one day out of nowhere a Basij member could get you and give you hard time. Same works with music, you may even see pictures of big music venues with a huge pop music concert, (which does happens a lot in Iran with the permission of the Islamic guidance ministry) but then you never know if you’re in a basement playing along to your Metallica record gonna be OK or not.  This whole uncertainty is what makes you feel you’re restricted all the time.”

“M” came to America before on 2005 for a tour with his band.  Contrary to what you might have heard, leaving Iran is not THAT hard.  The problem always lies when you GO BACK. Most people that “M” knew who were arrested were caught at the airport on their way back into the country.  Until the 2009 presidential elections, “M” did not know whether he wanted to stay or leave Iran.  He knew he wanted to study abroad but did not know if he wanted to leave permanently.  The 2009 elections made the decision clear—he had to leave and could not live with what he described as “horrifying moments and what people were were going through” in Iran.

He fears for his family’s safety in Iran because the Republic the Islamic Republic does not only silence its critics inside. They also want to silence all the Iranian immigrants. The easiest way for them is to put pressure on the immigrant’s family. There are many reports of arrest and torture of relatives of the BBC PERSIAN and VOA TV PERSIAN and other critics of the regime.

His underground band has become a lightning-rod for international media attention. The band describes their music as melding “Iranian melodies and jazz with an alternative sound.  The band’s lyrics tell of the frustrations and joys of life, somehow managing to speak of their cultural time and place, while simultaneous reflecting universal frustrations of isolation, frustration, and hope.”

 

Nicky Nodjoumi, Visual Artist

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