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Tehran Calling

26 Apr 2009 15:23No Comments

By GOLNOUSH NIKNEJAD in Boston

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[Tehran Bureau ] spotlight: Amir Ebrahimnia, the mastermind behind Radio Arazel, a new Persian underground podcast, is a proud 79'er--he was six when the 1979 revolution in his motherland promted his family to join the mass exodus westward. That was a seminal year in other ways: The Clash, one of the greatest bands of all time, released one of the greatest rock albums ever made, "London Calling."

The British punk-rockers lamented about class and politics, and they struck a chord. "I had a very intense interest in world issues," says Ebrahimnia, who was born in Tehran and grew up in Toronto. "Most kids didn't really get what was happening in the world, but I found a common bond in the punk scene. The Clash spoke to me. I just got it."

Meanwhile, in Iran, a population explosion changed the face of the Islamic Republic. Because of high birth rates, about two-thirds of Iran's nearly 70 million population is under 30 years of age. Post-revolutionary baby boomers came of age amid war, international sanctions, and, more recently, the Israeli and U.S. drumbeats of war. But many weathered it all, plugged into the internet and armed with satellite television. They were exposed to programs from all corners of the world. As Mehran, a lawyer who divides his time between New York and Tehran, once summed it up for me, "Le chick or le dude knows the latest fashion, the coolest way to think and the most fantastic music."

Ebrahimnia started going back to Tehran himself six years ago. There, he discovered Iran's vibrant underground--or zirzamini--music scene. It became an inspiration for Radio Arazel, or Punk Radio. "It's amazing just how much good music there was to feature," he says. "You have online magazines and talk shows and everyone 'talking' about music zirzamini. But I don't want to listen to people talking. I want to hear the music."

This is Radio Arazel on pirate radio

In the early 1980's, Joe Strummer, The Clash's frontman orchestrated a pirate-radio broadcast from a London rooftop, called "Radio Clash." As Ebrahimnia explains, "this was one of the other driving forces" for his radio show.

"In the 80's when there was no internet or anything resembling pod-casting, which would have been heavily illegal, pirate radio shows were the hottest things. They were often broadcasting from the back of a moving van so their signals could not be pinned down."

Radio frequencies are of course regulated by the FCC in the United States, and the CRTC in Canada. "Pirate radios were not controlled by a governmental body. They could broadcast what they wanted uncensored," says Ebrahimnia. "This is exactly what Radio Arazel is. We are not endorsed or regulated by anyone. The content is kept pure to its essence."

He adds, "Radio is magical. It is the original podcast. This is why we prefer to be called radio."

Like Ebrahimnia's early heroes, the Clash, Iran's musical underground stars are idealistic and musically adventurous. They exhibit a social consciousness, and are more likely to croon about democracy and urban decay than bling and flashy cars. And where as the Clash melded punk rock with elements of rockabilly, dub reggae, soul, the zirzamani sample Iranian rhythms with pop and hip-hop, zourkhuneh with nu-folk, Googoosh with reggae.

What are some of Ebrahimnia's own Iranian musical influences? "I don't think I'm as much in love with music as I am with sound, and how it is formed and shaped by the musician," he says, perhaps tactfully. "My iPod consists of a very wide range of genres."

The show, which is broadcasted in English, was launched in March to coincide with Nowruz merriment. As soon as a new episode in uploaded on Sunday, a notification goes out, to Web site subscribers at: RADIOARAZEL.COM via email, tweet for the Twitters, and a message for those following on Facebook and MySpace. For the very best in underground Persian music, tune in.

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