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Monday 22 December  
Shahin Najafi
carolien omidi's picture
Tehran, Iran
Tehran, Iran

Protest songs resound from Iranian car windows

Published on : 31 August 2011 - 2:18pm | By Carolien Omidi (photo: MrDiba1988)
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Down the centuries, songs have been written for all kinds of reasons: to celebrate happy events, to mourn the passing of loved ones, to pray or even to fight for a better world. This story is part of a series by Radio Netherlands Worldwide about protest songs from all over the world.

"Shut your mouth. Accept the conditions. Man or woman, there's no difference. Die! This is our dog's life."
You can hear this song issuing from many a car window in Tehran. Our Dog's Life seems to have become the anthem of a large part of the young generation of Iranians desperate for grater personal freedom.

Since the government cracked down on the protests which followed the controversial presidential election in 2009, there has been a deluge of protest music in Iran. When more than 70 people were killed, Brother, Drop Your Weapons by Mohammed Reza Shajarian, a song based on old poem, was a much-heard appeal to soldiers and paramilitary groups. There are also many songs honouring Neda Agha-Soltan the 26-year-old teacher shot to death during the unrest, who developed into the icon of the Green Movement.

Protest songs

Part of our series on protest songs.

Find other instalments here

The government has introduced a range of measures to silence the protest music. They blocked websites that songs could be downloaded from and also made social media sites inaccessible. In April 2009, a pro-government group which had already hacked Twitter in Iran left a message on Shahin Najafi's site, the singer of Our Dog's Life: "This site was hacked by the anonymous soldiers of Emam Zaman": a reference to the Shi'ite messiah.

Zahra, a 23-year-old student, discovered the music of Mr Najafi, as he styles himself, about a month after the protests:
"I remember it well. I was sitting with a girlfriend in her room and she played an illegal CD by him. I was amazed. Mr Najafi sang about all my frustrations. I immediately copied the CD and have been a big fan ever since."

Classical musician Shahram Nazeri was detained and threatened for recording a song entitled We Are Not Dirt Or Dust. The song was a response to remarks made by Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had referred to the reformists "dirt" and "dust".

Protest songs are still being downloaded from the internet and sold on the black market. Many Iranians use proxy servers to get round internet filters. Bluetooth is also popular. This wireless technology enables you to exchange files between mobile phones without recourse to the internet. Many young people make films combining songs with footage of street protests, which they then put online. In fact, the restrictions imposed by the Iranian authorities affect virtually all pop music. It is outlawed in Iran because of its perceived anti-Islamic content.

"Music has never been as widespread or as influential as it is today" says 51-year-old musician and composer Farhad Rajawi. "There used to be songs criticising the Shah but protest music really took off in a big way in Iran after the 2009 riots."

The nature of Iranian protest songs is quite broad. Someone like Mohsen Namjou is regarded as a kind of people's troubadour with melodic music and melancholy lyrics that appeal mostly to older people. He has even been called the Iranian Bob Dylan.

Artistic freedom
Shahin Najafi, on the other hand, makes raw rap music with tough, angry lyrics which attract young listeners. He fled Iran when he was 25 because of the song I Have A Beard which made fun of the clerics. He was sentenced to three years in prison and a hundred lashes. He lives in Germany these days. In a telephone interview he says:

"I am a man who is always screaming his anger and sorrow. I have artistic freedom in Germany but my heart is still in Iran. I belong to my country and I feel the pain of my fellow Iranians."

As long as there are street sellers offering bootleg CDs and mp3s for one euro, protest songs will still be heard: at illegal parties and on car stereos.




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Ana Rose 9 September 2011 - 12:29pm

This protest news is really amazing one and i think it is very helpful to make protest more strong. I think in India also we must use this kind of idea to make protest more strong and successful.

jasmin 1 September 2011 - 1:34pm

That reminds me of a joke on the situation. Two dogs meet for a chat. The one from the developing country is malnourished, the other from the communist country is well-fed. The starved dog feels that the other is healthy but unhappy and asks the reason.'My friend', says the other dog, "I am healthy and should be happy but one also wants to bark!!"

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