Since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, the clerical establishment that determines what’s culturally appropriate and what’s not has cast a skeptical eye toward Western rock music. But the clerics might be loosening up.
The band Damahi takes its name from a giant mythical fish of the Persian Gulf. It plays Western-sounding electric music and still manages to get support from the Iranian regime.
A 37-year-old bass player named Dara Daraee is the band’s leader.
We met at a coffee house that looks like a government office from the outside, but with an atrium full of free-flying parakeets and myna birds inside, Daraee explains, “They do some music classes, some painting, some theater classes. And also they have a stage over there.”
That's the stage where Damahi performed a sold-out show.
The last time I reported on Tehran's music, it was about bands in the city's underground rock scene — true rebels making music essentially behind the government's back. For them, it was either that or leaving the country.
The underground scene has shifted, it seems, to one where bands like Damahi are trying to maintain a sense of artistic integrity and play openly in Iran.
For Damahi, the starting point for their rock, world music and jazz fusion is the little-known folk music of southern Iran.
“For me personally, the main thing is the rhythm, the similarities between the rhythm in southern Iranian music and Latin music and Afro music," Daraee says. "This is the main attraction for me to do this project."
“You know, [the] Ministry of Guidance in Iran, they really support us to do this project and make this project happen,” he says.
Why have the religious authorities decided to support Damahi? Daraee says it's “because we are working on a culture that, it might be forgotten for some years ahead.”
He is keeping that culture alive, and in the process, sending out some fresh new musical vibes to the Iranian public.
I can say that seeing Damahi live was memorable. And judging from the audience reaction, Iranians won't be forgetting either.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Marco Werman and Matthew Bell from PRI's The World spent seven days in Tehran, Iran, around the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.