Welcome to Iran: a country where everything is forbidden, but anything is possible.
An insight into Iran’s illicit world of wild parties and extravagance can be found in the lyrics of Zed Bazi – Tehran’s unrivalled rap champions, recorded in London and Paris and played in every party in Tehran.
Zed Bazi were the pioneers of music in the Islamic Republic back in 2003 mixing gangster rap with electronic /dance music in the Persian language. 14 years on despite the group separating, its former members are still individually very successful in the Iranian downloads charts.
The group, consisting of four guys and one girl, left Iran in their teenage years to live in Europe, and started creating music in their mother tongues to export back to their homeland. They tapped into Iranian youth culture in an unprecedented way.
The songs of Zed Bazi broke the trend in Persian music which is traditionally melancholy, conservative and glorifies sadness. Instead their songs are positive, optimistic, with riskee lyrics, recounting erotic scenes with lovers, fights with love rivals, drug use, alcohol and wild parties in the villas surrounding Tehran.
The songs reference life in modern Tehran and for the first time there were songs in the Persian language that the Iranian youth could relate to so easily and so deeply. Indeed, these songs are fixtures in Persian parties, where their controversial lyrics, littered with profanities, are memorised and keenly repeated by the youth.
And for us, the foreigners, we are given a glimpse into the ‘real Iran’ that exists outside the government’s strict control on the media. We can see a forbidden youth culture which is shockingly similar to our own, but different in so many ways – when everything is forbidden, so much more is possible.
We can see the extravagance of the upper classes, as they sing about high class fashion and branded alcohol. Their song ‘Tehran Masarati’ offers a cultural critique about how their homeland has changed, perhaps not for the better. The hook goes:
‘The new Tehran, that’s full of Maserati’s and gangster fashion,
Tell me what remains (from the past)
Everything has become messed up, and you don’t even know
Who your own girlfriend was sleeping with last night.’
Zed Bazi’s most popular song, ‘Tabestoon Kohtahe’ (The Summer is Short) is about the bittersweet feeling of returning to Iran for the summer, which is shared by many of the more affluent young Iranians who study and live abroad. Each time they come back Tehran has changed, as they meet up with friends and lovers that they only see for three months of the year.
And finally, my personal favourite, ‘Zamin Safe’ (The world is flat). This song contains a haunting melody singing about separated lovers reminiscing, and knowing they will reunite as the world is flat. (It’s a play on words)
Zed Bazi have led the way for a new generation of Iranian hip hop artists to battle against the government’s strict control on the media and music. And while they may be recording outside of Iran, or illegally in their bedrooms or basements, they are being heard by millions, both inside and outside Iran. They are no longer seeking approval from the government, they are bypassing it altogether by recording music in private and uploading it directly onto the internet.
So thankyou Zed Bazi, your captivating songs have left me in awe of Persian music and inspired me to continue pursuit of mastering the Persian language. They have given us all a fresh insight into a new generation of Iranians, and their fascinating culture.
So stand up, raise your glass up and say, cheen cheen …