Mehdi Rajabian was sent to prison for making music – but he says that won't stop him


Image copyright Mehdi Rajabian
Image caption Mehdi Rajabian: “Within the Heart East, an instrument will also be as noteworthy as a gun.”

Mehdi Rajabian could maybe be arrested at any second.

The 30-year-old has already been imprisoned twice for making music the Iranian authorities regarded as unacceptable.

The indispensable time, he used to be saved in solitary confinement for three months – however the second saw him jailed for six years and forbidden from taking part in musical actions without a extinguish in sight.

At the moment on probation, he’s continued to make music in defiance of the regime’s ban. The consequence is an album, Heart Jap, that used to be released by Sony Song final year.

Recorded in secrecy, it substances contributions from nearly 100 artists in 12 worldwide locations, alongside side Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Loads of the musicians confronted same persecution to Rajabian. Indubitably one of many songs used to be recorded all the intention thru an air strike, one more by a fleeing refugee in a boat.

Every music is accompanied by a painting from Kurdish artist Zehra Doğan, who used to be herselfimprisoned for virtually three yearsfor making art that offended the Turkish govt.

Image copyright Zehra Dogan
Image caption Zehra Dogan’s art work for the song Iran

And but, the message is one of peace and cohesion. Working collectively in isolation, these disparate artists bear crafted an titillating and keen portrait of the distance’s music.

“I indubitably feel esteem, on this era of time and historical past, Heart Jap worldwide locations vital a project esteem this,” Rajabian tells the BBC through a genuine messaging app from his home in Sari, within the north of Iran.

“Heart Jap inhabitants are all plagued by the an identical anguish… but music is a abnormal language we can employ to carry our sufferings.

“This project is a ‘no’ to battle, which system any kind of battle and human rights oppression.”

Inspiration for the album arrived all the intention thru Rajabian’s second penal complicated duration of time, when he used to be compelled to share a cell with Somalian pirates.

“They’d verbalize me their folk music,” recalls the musician, who quiet has some handwritten poetry from their chief, “one of many 10 most violent males within the sphere”.

The skills taught him that music can now not be suppressed, even while you lock up the musicians.

“That is why I wrote a project for freedom and peace in penal complicated,” he says.

Image copyright Mehdi Rajabian
Image caption Some of the vital poetry Rajabian used to be handed by Somali pirates

Rajabian’s ordeal began in 2013, when the Islamic Modern Guard raided his living of labor, shut down his recording studio and confiscated all his laborious drives.

Attend then, he used to be running a file label that championed female musicians, and used to be working on an album, The Historical past of Iran Narrated By Setar, which he described as being regarding the “absurdity” of the Iran-Iraq battle.

Accused of distributing “underground music, alongside side many whose lyrics and messages were deemed offensive to the Iranian authorities or the country’s religion,” he used to be despatched to penal complicated. Rajabian says he spent 90 days in solitary confinement, blindfolded and blind to his surroundings.

He used to be within the extinguish released on bail but, in 2015, used to be arrested again – this time alongside side his movie-maker brother, Hossein Rajabian – and sentenced to 6 years in penal complicated, after athree-minute trial.

In yelp, the brothers went on hunger strike for 40 days. Rajabian says he misplaced 15kg and vomited blood. His cellmate, a human rights activist called Vahid Sayadi Nasiri, also took piece within the hunger strike and tragically died.

Organisations such as Amnesty World and Freemuse fought for his release, supported by celebrities alongside side Johnny Depp, Peter Gabriel and Ai Weiwei; and his sentence used to be within the extinguish cut to three years in detention center with a further three years on suspended sentence.

Yet he remains to be going thru the repercussions of those experiences. At one level, the musician used to be thought to bear developed muscular dystrophy because the interrogations he continued. Starvation has also broken his skill to play the setar.

No subject the whole lot, he continues to pursue music and his subsequent project could maybe be his riskiest but. As soon as extra, Rajabian has plans to file female singers – who’re quiet banned from singing in front of male audiences (excluding kin) in Iran.

“Like minded now, I am working on its instrumentals and then [I will] join with female singers,” says Rajabian. “A alternative of female singers from reasonably lots of Heart Jap worldwide locations, who will articulate a story, piece by piece, till they all unite within the extinguish.”

He concedes that, in Iran, “it is a crime to contact me and lots of [people] are skittish to apply up” his requests. Nonetheless he plans to orchestrate the album online, patching collectively a community of esteem-minded artists and breaking down musical borders.

“I will work on this project, even supposing I return to penal complicated,” he insists.

Iran’s underground music scene – Behzad Bolour, BBC Persian

After the 1979’s Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini banned the broadcast of music on TV or radio, arguing that it made the human brain “lazy and frivolous”. Handiest innovative music and religious songs were regarded as permissible, and nearly all Iran’s pop singers left for the united states.

Step by step, classical Persian music, below the banner of Sufi music began to resurface. Nonetheless within the 1990s, a parallel Iran used to be growing below the pores and skin of the indispensable cities, with formative years crafting their possess devices and making their possess unofficial songs (which were only broadcast on the BBC Persian demand programme).

In early 2000, after a leisure on the rules around music, the pop market spread out in Iran and, thru the web, underground music which used to be percolating within the assist of closed doors began to unfold out. Bands were taking part in rock, fusion, rap and alternative folk. And they all talked just a few assorted Iran, an Iran that desires to be original and stage with the relaxation of the sphere.

Mehdi Rajabian is from the later generation of those Young other folks Of The Revolution – and an awfully important underground enlighten in Iran’s music scene.

Image copyright Mehdi Rajabian
Image caption Rajabian knows he is risking further time in penal complicated by persevering with to pursue music

The musician is motivated by hope and a probability to make employ of his music as a “flashlight” within the darkness.

“Within the Heart East, an instrument will also be as noteworthy as a gun, and as forbidden as carrying one,” Rajabian explains.

“In a society where inhuman incidents are occurring all over, art can file and echo [them] in historical past. Art exposes truth – and doing so constantly comes with penalties [in] totalitarian regimes and dictatorships.

“Within the first step, the artist loses their abnormal living project because of the the rigidity the regime applies to them, then they acquire them destroyed – however the final consequence is other folks being awake. This brings light to society, so that they’d stand in front of the machine as correctly.”

Rajabian is placing his lifestyles at streetlevel in pursuit of that scheme – but he truly believes his efforts will make a distinction.

“No energy can terminate just art,” he concludes.

“Art is my weapon and I stand earlier than any energy.”

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