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Political Hip-Hop

by SAYA OVAISY in Tehran

17 Oct 2009 01:18Comments

[ music ] Tehran's underground music scene is explored in a number of documentaries, including Amir Hamz's Sounds of Silence and Bahman Ghobadi's No One Knows About Persian Cats, which screened at last year's Cannes Film Festival. From forerunners like rock band O-hum to innovative stars like Mohsen Namjoo, the stories of a few musicians who have gone mainstream once they left Iran have been featured in the Western media. But less is known about those who remain inside the country and cautiously guard their identities.

Hip-hop in particular deserves recognition for its mainstream status among youthful audiences in Iran. Kucheh bazaar -- vernacular, or street slang -- dominates Farsi rap, and most songs are characterized by a litany of colorful profanity. Lyrics frequently depict Tehran's increasingly promiscuous nightlife and drug culture, and hint at indifference in the face of struggles with depression and despair. For instance, in "Summer is Short," popular rapper Zed Bazi goes:

We feel sexier
[i.e, after doing cocaine], like we're lying on some beach in Mexico/ ... then we're in bed, on top of each other/ ... and I want you to tell me 'Fuck Life'

Then there is Iran's "President of Hip-Hop," who goes by the stage name Hichkas, meaning "Nobody." In 2003, at 18, Hichkas pioneered one of the first rap groups in the country, 021, named for the Tehran area code. After Ershad, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, denied his group official permission to perform or release its music, Hichkas proceeded to record in underground studios and distribute his music online. He released a full album, The Asphalt Jungle, on iTunes in 2006.

In an interview with The Daily Show's Jason Jones this past summer, Hichkas said his music focuses on social issues, such as the regime's mistreatment of the public and the high rates of addiction, depression, and unemployment among Iran's youth.

"Bunch of Soldiers" is his first track with a music video (featured here with English subtitles). Filming street scenes without an Ershad-issued permit can carry a jail sentence, so most artists shy away from making videos. Hichkas decided to brave the danger. The 2008 song, which encourages uniting in the face of oppression, seems strangely prescient in light of the events since the June election. The video's depiction of Tehran set against pitch black and bright white backgrounds adds to the mood that the dark but hopeful lyrics evoke.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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