Nahid is currently a research scholar at The Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University. She is completing revisions for her forthcoming book “Soundtrack of the Post-Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran” – Stanford University Press, 2016 – and working on her new research.
At Oxford University until May 2014, Nahid taught ‘History and Politics of the Middle East’ to Oxford PPE students, ‘Modern Iran’ to undergraduates, and her self-designed course ‘The Public Sphere in the Middle East’ to master’s students.
Title: ‘Iran’s Troubled Tunes: Music as Politics in the Islamic Republic’
Nahid Seyedsayamdost, St. Antony’s College (my dissertation is filed under the passport version of my last name)
Doctor of Philosophy in Oriental Studies, University of Oxford
Hilary Term 2013
In this thesis, I argue that in the absence of a free public sphere in Iran over the past three decades, music has provided an important political space where cultural producers and their audiences engage in dialogues over societal, ideational and political values. Both through the substance of their discourses and their very participation in this field, they contest the state’s ideological power. Each chapter studies in greater depth a specific time period so that, taken together, my thesis offers a chronological overview of music in the Islamic Republic. Each chapter also focuses on a specific genre and the work of one musician situated within that genre. I write about the constraints that these artists experience and explore their strategies for coping within a repressive environment. Maintaining a sense of ‘authenticity’ is important to all of the artists discussed; this became especially challenging following the 2009 presidential elections, which caused the musicians in question to take up varying positions.
On a more minor parallel track, I also trace the state’s efforts to engage in this field through its own productions, highlighting the ways in which music is an expressive reflection of the evolution of the Islamic Republic. After initially banning all music following the 1979 revolution, the state eventually bowed to the need for music but has attempted to stifle any that does not serve the regime’s interest. This has led to a popular but shallow official musical culture existing alongside a largely impotent but lively subculture. In the process of its material decisions, the state has revealed that it is bound neither by Islamic nor by republican ideals.
Following an introductory chapter, I examine the work of Iran’s foremost classical vocalist Mohammad Reza Shajarian and his use of classical Persian poetry and music to express a form of critique that has allowed for wide participation by diverse audiences. In the third chapter, I describe the state’s creation of sanctioned pop music. I study more closely the work of pop star Alireza Assar and his strategy of creating ambiguity in order to safeguard his sense of authenticity. In the fourth chapter, I trace the birth of an alternative music sphere in Khatami-era Iran by focusing on the creations of the fusion scene’s enfant terrible, Mohsen Namjoo. In the final chapter, I examine the expansion of this alternative space thanks to new communication technologies, and the emergence of a new generation of hip-hop artists through a discussion of the works of Sorush Lashkari, aka Hichkas.