The short documentary Not an illusion shed light on a very controversial topic in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is music censorship. Examples on regulations restricting musicians in Iran were introduced through an underground band called Piccolo whose members are very talented but unfortunate to be born in a country that doesnt appreciate their art and disappoints and discourages them through the tough and complicated policies it emplaces. In this short essay, first, I will be reflecting on the documentary mentioned above, and I will be discussing different types of regulations that suppress the publishing and performance of specific types of music. I will also focus on the severity of these regulations when the gender of the musician is taken into account. Finally, I will discuss whether artistic freedom is in a better state today with President Hassan Rouhani in office.
Censorship in Iran encompasses a wide range of object matter whether artistic or non-artistic, political, cultural or religious. Most of these censorships are seen as measures taken to maintain the stability and security of the country and to ensure that what is presented to the general public conforms to Islamic values and Iranian traditions. Regulations that govern and control music production, publications and performances are mainly put forward by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which approves or prohibits anything that might, in anyway, disrespect Islamic ethics or upset Iranr’s political climate. In the documentary Not an Illusion we are introduced to some of these regulations that hindered the band from sharing their art with the public; such as being confined to present only a certain type of music- anything that is not pop, rap or heavy metal and doesnt insult the sacred or criticize the regime. So an electric guitarist or a drummer whose hobby is to play such music genres might never get the chance to do so in Iran. Members of any band must also refrain themselves from performing certain moves on stage which are considered against Islamic and social morals. Indeed, these regulations are not as clear, and hence expose any musician to major uncertainty about whether their musical piece would be vetted acceptable by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance or not. Not to mention that they might not receive a response from the ministry until two days before their designated date for the actual performance. If their musical piece isnt approved then they would lose lots of money if they have already booked a venue for their performance. This uncertainty fosters a sense of frustration among all musicians who in many cases end up finding some other job or hobby that they can practice in peace.
The documentary also presents to us Sara, a talented singer, who is determined to practice this hobby despite all the extra restrictions she faces for being a female singer. Despite her beautiful voice, we learn that Sara, and all other Iranian women, are not allowed to sing solo for a mixed audience, or even record tapes of their voices. They are only allowed to sing vocals, only and only if joined by at least two other female singers. This regulation comes from the Islamic belief that a womanr’s voice would create a sexual excitation among men. This regulation is the one that disturbs most female musicians the most; they believe that if their voice should be muted, God wouldnt have given them the talent in the first place. I personally felt the disappointment and anger in Sarar’s voice whenever the narrator opened this topic with her. She felt as if she was of a lesser value, that she couldnt be the master of her own destiny and that she had to always present herself as inferior to her fellow male musicians.
Musicians in Iran have their freedom of expression restricted like no other place on earth; however, they never lose hope that one day the music scene would change so that Iranians can express themselves and their thoughts in any form of art. Their hope of a better tomorrow was enhanced with the election of President Hassan Rouhani who promised the public to reduce cultural restrictions and to promote more arts in Iran. He also appointed a new Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ali Jannati, who promised to bring underground music into the open and to give underground musicians and bands the right conditions to present their art to the public. Ever since Rouhani took over the office, we have seen some improvements such as the performance of the pop star Xaniar Khosravi on stage after he had been rejected several times. We have also witnessed the band Pallet playing to the national audience across the country. However, at the same time, the traditional singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian was still prohibited from performing, even though Rouhani has personally promised to bring him back. Itr’s also believed that since Ali Jannati became the minister, more and more concerts have been cancelled across different Iranian cities. This shows that music and cultural censorship are still on-going until this day, not only targeting western music but also traditional one. I, however, believe that this will not be the case in the future. We have been seeing an increasing number of individuals who want to practice and learn music in Iran, and I am positive that the new generation will make a difference in Iran in the upcoming years.
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