Konferenz: Sketches of Iran

Die Konferenz ist in Englisch ohne Übersetzung.

The conference is in English.



Morning Session

Chair: Tiago de Oliveira Pinto, Hochschule für Musik, Weimar



09.00 Cymin Samawatie: Iran, Land of Poetry


Arguably in no other part of the world has sung poetry been more highly valued than in the lands where Iranian civilisation has flourished for millennia. The public and private lives of most Iranians include activities, during which verses are suing or recited, either by specialists or by most of those who are present. Some types of singing ‘forbid’ instrumental accompaniment; others demand it. Verses of the great classical Persian poets – Hafez, Khayyam, Rumi, Saadi, Attar – are performed in varied ways. Primarily they have remained poems that must be listened to, learned, and interpreted orally, not merely experienced through silent or internal contemplation. Every language spoken in Iran has its own genres of sung or oral poetry, some of which are oriented towards narrative and philosophical reflection.


After a presentation of a sample of the most important wordsmiths - from the classical poets already mentioned to modern (Nima Yushidj, Forough Farrokhzaad, Ahmad Shamlu, Sadegh Hedayat) and contemporary ones (Maryam Heydarazadeh, Ali Abdollahi) - Cymin Samawatie will deal with the question of the meaning of poetry in modern-day Iranian music culture.


German-born of Iranian descent, Cymin Samawatie is a multi-award winning composer, arranger, singer and festival organiser. All her projects have one thing in common: crossing borders. That may be between states and political systems, between styles and genres, between old ways and modernity, between languages and religions, between composition and improvisation. In the autumn of 2018, she held a scholarship at Istanbul’s Cultural Academy Tarabya.


Gesungene Poesie ist in der iranischen Kultur von allerhöchstem Wert. RUTH-Preisträgerin Cymin Samawatie untersucht, welche Bedeutung diese Kunst heute noch hat.




09.45 Keivan Aghamohseni:

Football Chants in the Interplay between “pop music” and “religious music” in Tehran


The subject of Iranian football chants is interesting for several reasons. Although it was policy to exclude football/soccer from the cultural mainstream of the new regime after the Islamic Revolution, it is currently considered one of the most important parts of its cultural policy. The fact that many European football league matches are broadcast live on Iranian television heightens the sport’s cultural importance. The drive to examine football chants from an ethnomusicological perspective lies in this discipline’s definition of music. Ethnomusicology sees music as a behaviour rather than a single voice. That’s why it’s necessary to study musical behaviours in societies. With this approach, fans’ football songs and chants are likewise musical behaviours. Common paradigms in Iran’s research space have tended to see music as “sound” and “art” rather than human behaviour. The approach of music as a human behaviour in the field of ethnomusicology since the 1960s has provoked intense interest. From this standpoint, music becomes, and is, a behaviour, an activity that involves people in different parts of the world in different ways and forms. The main question for this fascinating study is the form these audio-musical behaviours of Tehran football fans take and what the context for shaping these behaviours might be.


Dr. Keivan Aghamohseni majored in 2006 in Iranian Music in Tehran. From 2006 to 2009 he studied ethnomusicology at Hannover’s University of Theatre and Music. He finished his Ph.D. in 2015 with a thesis on Tango on the Persian Carpets: The Medium Shellac in the context of Modernisation and Nationalism in Iran. He is currently postdoctoral researcher at the University of Halle-Wittenberg.


Fußballgesänge sind im Iran, wie auch bei uns, zunehmend ein interessantes Forschungsobjekt für Musikethnologen. Keivan Aghamohseni von der Universität Halle interessiert dabei weniger die Frage von Metrum und Melodie als vor allem die des sozialen Verhaltens.



10.30-11.00 Coffee break



11.00 Mina & Mitra Harandi:

Forbidden Music in Iran: A Study of Underground Music and Street Music in Tehran


The prohibition and censorship of music and lyrics in Iran are hardly unfamiliar. Given that this phenomenon existed before the Iranian Revolution of 1979, for various reasons such as political issues, the study of its description and reasons remains complex. This complexity was further amplified by the victory and consolidation of the Islamic Revolution. Over the years, it has been made more complicated by technological advancement, increasing access to the media and movements towards modernity. Since there is a clear discrepancy in Iran between which laws are enforced and what people actually do in private, the availability of local mainstream music which is controlled by the government is not enough for the majority of people. Moreover, the accessibility of unauthorized music, which had existed since the early years of the Islamic Republic’s rule, has been extended over recent decades to embrace the illegal production and distribution of unauthorized music. The phenomenon of “underground music” or “street music” is one of the results of the people’s resistance to restrictions and their continued persistence to consume and produce unauthorized music in contemporary Iran. In this presentation the dual authors first study the reasons for banning music in the Islamic Republic and how applied. Next, they study the two above-mentioned phenomena briefly explaining how these subcultures exist in the context of modern-day Iran.


Mina & Mitra Jafari Harandi, born in 1987, are ethnomusicologists and piano instructors. They hold bachelor degrees in civil engineering and master degrees in ethnomusicology from Tehran University. They work as assistants for the head of the music faculty, and also as music researchers at the centre for the great Islamic Encyclopedia in Tehran. Their main interest in research is in popular music topics, especially in unofficial music streams such as underground music and street music in Iran.


Die beiden Zwillingsschwestern Harandi gehen in den Teheraner Untergrund und untersuchen die (Straßen-)Musik als ebenso inoffizielle wie populäre Subkultur in der Islamischen Republik.




11.45 Ramin Sadighi: Dead in the Studio, Alive on Stage. The downfall of album production and the boosting live music scene in Iran


Just like elsewhere in the world, Iran is experiencing a post-genre and post-digital era in music. In times where Iranian musicians are lost as to how to categorise their music, album production is becoming more and more difficult. Similarly CD sales are dropping rapidly, and all this is in addition to the other obstacles that the local music industry is suffering from, such as lack of copyright law, sanctions, travel bans, economic crisis and more. But ultimately it doesn’t mean that music in Iran is supposedly ‘dying’. The industry is adapting. Music, musicians and audience are entering into a new ecosystem which even may create new opportunities for musicians from other countries.


Ramin Sadighi was born in Vienna in 1967 but has long lived in Tehran. In the 1990s he was active as a bass player but also in music distribution before turning fully to music production in 1999 when he founded Hermes Records in order to promote non-mainstream Persian music worldwide. Hossein Alizadeh & Jivan Gasparyan’s Grammy-nominated album Endless Vision ( 2007), releasing the first non-English version of the Songlines World Music Magazine (in Persian, 2006) as well as award sfor Persian Music Label of the Year (2006, 2012, 2015, 2016) helped him and Hermes Records attract far wider recognition. Nowadays he enjoys a strong relation with the prestigious German label ECM. Sadighi also collaborated with Chicago’s Columbia College on their mentoring program in Arts Management for many years. He received the Professional Excellence Award from WOMEX in 2015.


Ramin Sadighi ist ein mehrfach ausgezeichneter Produzent und Label-Chef. Er schildert, wie sich Musiker angesichts staatlicher Restriktionen und sinkender CD-Verkäufe neue Vertriebswege für ihre Kunst erschließen.



12.30-13.30 Lunch break



Afternoon Session

Chair: Keivan Aghamohseni



13.30 Yalda Yazdani: Women’s Music and Women Musicians in Post-Revolutionary Iran


The position of women in Iranian society is mostly dependent on the nation’s political discourse. After the Revolution of 1979, the position of women in Iranian society changed drastically. This has also extended into the role of females as musicians in Iran. According to the revolutionary fundamentalist Islamic government, it is forbidden for women to sing solo in public spaces. Women’s participation in music became more restricted and the opportunities for women to record and perform music differ from men’s. Female singers find creative outlets only in underground, illegal or private situations. However, the dynamic of an increased number of women musicians appearing in Iranian society, even as restrictions increased, creates a rich opportunity for study. Therefore, the main focus of this presentation is based on activities and strategies of female singers for overcoming the censorships in Iranian society.


Yalda Yazdani is an ethnomusicologist and tar player. Born in Isfahan, Iran, she is currently completing her PhD studies at the musicology department of Cologne University. She founded and curated the festivals Female Voices of Iran (2017, 2018) in collaboration with Contemporary Opera Berlin. Recently, she has been involved in various film documentaries focussing on music and the potential it offers to cross cultural exchanges.


Das Berliner Festival Female Voices of Iran hat mit seinen ersten beiden Ausgaben (2017/18) hohe Wellen geschlagen. Die Gründerin und Kuratorin, Yalda Yazdani, beschäftigt sich vor allem mit der Rolle und den Möglichkeiten ihrer Geschlechtsgenossinnen in der heutigen iranischen Musikszene.



14.15 Mitra Behpoori: The Tar as a Medium of Cultural Memory


For musicology and ethnomusicology object biography is a new field; however, it is an essential part of museology (that is, the science or practice of organising, arranging, and managing museums). The focus of this presentation is how the musical instrument known as tar (a Persian long-necked lute), delivers material, contextual and historical information as an “object”. It is therefore possible to speak of an object biography that deals with the individual life history of the object and its contextual significance. The contextual meaning arises from cultural memory. Material information includes construction and ornamentation. These features can be viewed in a socio-cultural atmosphere. The contextual information stems from connotations of the instrument and the experiences associated with it in its original socio-cultural Iranian environment. An organological examination of the tar with an iconographical focus is considered to be one of the most important sources in current research. It can provide valuable information about the importance of the instrument in society and possible deviations in construction and playing technique compared to contemporary instrument types. This lecture is going to find an answer as to how a musical instrument such as the tar can report on its cultural origins as a storage medium.


Mitra Behpoori holds a bachelor degree in Classical Persian Music from the University of Tehran, College of Music and Performing Arts. Afterwards, she started to study for her master’s in musicology with a focus on Digital Edition at the Musicology Seminar of Detmold University of Music and University of Paderborn where she is also working as a research assistant. In addition to her studies, Mitra Behpoori is an active musician on the tar and the oud. In December 2014 she founded the Duo Delgosha with Japanese percussionist Kazuyo Tsunehiro. In February 2018 Mitra Behpoori was awarded the second jury prize as well as the audience choice prize at the annual Detmold University Competition “Musik & Vermittlung”.


Mitra Behpoori, Doktorandin an der Universität Detmold-Paderborn, ist selbst aktive Musikerin auf der Langhalslaute Tar. Sie liefert in ihrem Vortrag eine Objekt-Biografie dieses Instruments.



15.00-15.30 Coffee break



15.30 Vladimir Ivanoff: “Acemler” - Persian Musicians and Music from the 16th-17th Centuries as a Main Pillar of Ottoman Court Music


The vocal repertoire attributed to the early 15th Century CE musician ‘Abd al-Qādir Marāghi (Abdülkadir Meragi, Azerbaijan-Iran, d. 1435 CE) in later centuries became one of the main myths which formed Ottoman Music History, even in Republican Turkey. Post-Meragi, it was the increasing intercultural character of Ottoman civilisation which formed an independent Ottoman musical style which so influenced the whole Near East. From the mid-16th century onwards, a substantial number of migrant Iranian musicians in Istanbul - named “Acemler”, ‘foreigners’ in contemporary musical sources - became influential. A small renaissance of this repertoire in recent years met with mixed reactions in Iran and Turkey.


Vladimir Ivanoff studied musicology, art history and theatre studies at Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität. With a prize-winning thesis on the earliest lute manuscript, he received his doctorate in musicology. Simultaneously, he studied lute and historical performance practice at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and the Musikhochschule, Karlsruhe. Ivanoff has published several books; contributes regularly to music journals and encyclopaedias; lectures at international conferences; and directs workshops worldwide. As a producer, composer and arranger he has worked with numerous artists from widely diverse backgrounds. In 1988 he founded Ensemble Sarband which has received several awards. In his work Vladimir Ivanoff illuminates the connecting threads between the Orient and Occident, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, past cultures and present time. In so doing, he is driven to create a deeper public consciousness for cultural distinctions and clichés, for the patterns which determine our perceptions of the Other and the Foreign.


RUTH-Preisträger (mit Sarband 2008) Vladimir Ivanoff interessiert sich für die Einflüsse, die Acemler, iranische Exilmusiker in Istanbul, ab der Mitte des 16. Jahrhunderts auf die Musik des Ottomanischen Reichs ausgeübt haben.



16.15 Mehdi Aminian: The Woven Sounds. Exploring the Singing Cultures around Carpet Weaving in Iran


Carpet weaving in Iran down the centuries created synergic exchanges between labour and artistic creation. It developed unique styles of work melodies intertwined with the weaving process. Despite the widespread culture and variety of traditions in carpet weaving across Iran, studies addressing the (so-called) intangible cultural heritage around carpet weaving are scarce. They have dealt with the subject only marginally while focusing on other aspects of carpet weaving. Many of these traditions, along with the accompanying craftsmanship, are rapidly vanishing. This in turn highlighted the urgency of conducting a research project.


In pilot researches carried out in the province of Isfahan and Kerman (2018/2019), two categories of work music traditions that accompany carpet weaving were identified. The first, known as Naqshe Khani (‘Pattern Singing’), consists of recitals and tunes which serve as a pattern guide for the weavers while they are weaving. The second one, manifested in the form of storytelling, singing, poetry and prayer recital, is not directly connected to the weaving process but accompanies it and, arguably, influences the labour process. Central to this investigation and presenting the ongoing process is an understanding of the historical and practical reasons for the emergence of Naqshe Khani and what musical, linguistic or shared styles can be recognised today in different regions.


Mehdi Aminian has completed studies in IT, Humanities, Music and Ethnomusicology in Bosnia, Malaysia, The Netherlands, Romania and Austria. Being employed at the Commission of Vanishing Language and Cultural Heritage at Vienna’s Austrian Academy of Sciences (OEAW), he is currently conducting a PhD Research on intangible cultural heritage around carpet weaving in Iran. Besides, he has dedicated the past ten years to developing and implementing international music and research projects within the Association Roots Revival he founded. These projects are at the confluence of Humanities and Musical Traditions in the process of establishing a dialogue between different musical traditions around the world.


Mehdi Aminian (vom Ensemble Quieter Than Silence) gibt einen Einblick in seine gegenwärtige Doktorarbeit, in der es um die Gesänge der Teppichweberinnen in verschiedenen Gegenden des Irans geht.