Weeks of protests rock Iran. In a dictatorship that undermines all criticism, the power of music is the mouthpiece of a generation - even if the music comes from Israel.
Triggered by the murder of the Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini by the Iranian moral police, protests against the regime have been taking place in Iran for weeks. Every day there are dead and injured among the demonstrators who are demanding an end to the mullahs' dictatorship. The protests in Iran are also being followed closely in Israel, which the regime in Tehran calls the "Zionist devil". Ironically, the album by an Israeli musician became the "soundtrack of the new revolution," as the Israeli music psychologist Nathan Mehrzadi puts it.
In fact, Israeli singer and actress Liraz Charhi's songs sung in Farsi are very popular in the Islamic Republic. The daughter of Iranian-Jewish immigrants became internationally known through her role as a Mossad agent in the Israeli series "Tehran". In early 2022, she recorded her current record "Roya" - the Persian word means "fantasy" - in Istanbul with some Iranian musicians - with whom she had already worked online in the past. After that, she also performed with them during a music festival in the synagogue in Kraków.
Nathan Mehrzadi also has Iranian roots - the music psychologist experienced the Islamic revolution in 1979, which drove out the Shah and brought the mullahs to power. "The rebellion is dominated by freedom and self-determination," he says of the current protests. "The young generation wants democracy. The Internet opens up new possibilities." From Mehrzadi's point of view, the protests in Iran are about more than politics.
The women in particular wanted to shape their country and their lives according to their own ideas. In doing so, they didn't want to copy the West, but also bring in their own culture, which many spread through the music they use as a vehicle for their revolutionary ideas. "The music expresses what cannot be said and about which it is impossible to remain silent," says Mehrzadi.
Charhi's debut in 2018 was already a success in Iran. "After that, I received numerous videos of women taking off their chadors and dancing to my songs at underground parties in Tehran," the singer said. Your current album contains a declaration of love for Iran, but also a declaration of war on the current rulers. "Together we will start a revolution," it says, or "How much longer will we be quiet, keep our heads down, our knees bent?" In the accompanying music video, Charhi dances along with some women wearing colorful dresses.
Since the 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic has viewed Israel as an enemy. Visiting Israel or collaborating artistically with Israelis is a punishable offence. Therefore, the Iranian musicians only wanted to meet the Israeli singer on the condition that their faces would be blurred on recordings and their names would not be published anywhere. Despite all the bans, Charhi dreams of performing in Iran. "I always wanted to meet my friends and family from my parents' home country and I will one day be able to visit this great country."
It's not that rare for singers from Israel to have fans in Iran. Charhi is the niece of Israeli pop star Rita, whose 2012 album sung in Farsi was also successful in Iran. Israeli artist Mark Eliyahu - who produced the music for the "Tehran" series - regularly performs in Turkey for Iranian audiences. Born in Dagestan, the master of the Kamanche - a spiked violin from Iranian and Azerbaijani music - grew up with Turkish and Persian culture.
"Many Iranians love Israel but fear the extremist Islamic rulers in their country," explains Hadar Maoz, an Israeli singer who also has Iranian roots. "They have a strong interest in Judaism and want regime change so they can openly renew relations with the Jewish state." Maoz released the song "Enlighten Iran" in 2020, in which she calls for the liberation of the Iranian people from the yoke of Shia dictatorship. After the song was viewed thousands of times on YouTube, she received a lot of positive news from Iran. With her band Persian Bukharan Groove she performs worldwide and mixes authentic folk music with a modern and intoxicating beat. "Not everyone can reply or write to me publicly," says Maoz. "Since my video was posted, the song has been banned in the mullahs' state, but I still get a lot of messages from Iranians under false names."
Those in power in Tehran are fighting the protests with bloody violence, but "the winds of change are blowing in Iran," says Nathan Mehrzadi. "And this time the music plays a different role than in previous protests." The music psychologist explains that by eliminating the opposition and the press, songs - including those from Israel - became a mouthpiece against the dictatorship. While the Islamic Republic considers music "un-Islamic," the protesters are using it to spread their goals and content. "People have understood the magic of music," says Mehrzadi. "It knows no borders and can change the world."