The World

The Iranian city of Bushehr is the site of one of the country’s controversial nuclear reactors.

Bushehr is also the home to another controversial subject that has gotten far less attention.

The subject is musician, Saied Shanbehzadeh.

There’s nothing there that sounds controversial.

If you could see it, and you can just below, you would discover a bare-chested man.

He’s got a sarong wrapped around his waist, and is dancing to a rhythm played by his son on percussion.

Saied Shanbezadeh and his ensemble do this all the time.

The difference is that he was outside Iran.

And when he got back home, officials in Tehran took him to task for the show.

Shanbehzadeh says he doesn’t really understand what they objected to.

But after the incident, the authorities told him to stop performing.

And Shanbehzadeh’s reaction?

Shanbehzadeh: No one can stop me. The only way someone can stop me is to kill me or cut my head. No one can stop me. I will do what I want to do.

Now he does what he wants to…in exile in Paris.

Saied Shanbehzadeh doesn’t perform the revered traditional Persian repertoire.

He plays the music from southern Iran, his music.

Marco Werman: When I think of Iranian music, when I think of Persian music, it’s very calm, it’s very quiet, it’s very soothing, whereas there seems to be a lot of connection with North Africa, with West Africa.

Shanbehzadeh: Exactly, there’s a lot of influence in the music of south Iran, like the African influence, exactly like my face. You know if you look at my face, you cannot say I’m Iranian, not African, not Indian. You know, I am mix of all. I don’t have the African nose, but my color it is. Because my mother’s side from four or five generations they come from Zanzibar to Iran.

Saied Shanbehzadeh still champions the music of southern Iran.

But he’s diversifying a bit on the side.

Shanbehzadeh has been collaborating in France with modern dance companies; and he’s been giving his group’s music light touches of jazz.

It’s a challenge for someone whose main instrument is the neyanban, an Iranian bagpipe.

Marco Werman: Tell me what you’re pointing to right here.

Shanbehzadeh: This is the goat skin. It’s called Neyanban. “Ney” is bamboo, and “ban” is meaning bag. It is goat skin and two reed, and we use it in the wedding ceremony in south Iran. We play the music for a special reason. We have the music for the trance, for the “zar.” We have music for wedding. We have music for work. We have music for the funeral. And what we present on the stage we try to introduce the people to different part of the life of south Iran.

Oddly, that life in south Iran might be better known if the Iranian government were more amenable to letting Saied Shanbehzadeh do his thing.

For The World, I’m Marco Werman.

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