TarantisT bandleader on protests in Iran: 'This is not protest anymore. This is a revolution'

In the Iranian diaspora community of Los Angeles, members of the heavy metal group TarantisT have added their artistic voices to the protests in Iran. Arash Rahbary is the band's singer and bassist. He speaks to host Marco Werman.

The World

When 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in the custody of Iran's so-called morality police last September, mass protests were unleashed across the country. But they didn't stop at the borders of Iran.

Demonstrations calling for basic women's rights and freedom generally in Iran sprang up across the globe, and in the Iranian diaspora community of Los Angeles, members of the heavy metal group TarantisT have added their artistic voices to the protests.

Arash Rahbary is the band's singer and bassist and joined The World from his home in LA.

Marco Werman: Do you recall where you were and how you felt when the news of Mahsa Amini's death and the first protests in Iran began to capture the world's attention?
Arash Rahbary: Well, every day in the past few years that all these negative things that have been happening inside the country, every morning you wake up and you check the news, you check the social media, see what's going on in the world, what's going on in your own country. And you see, OK, another day and another unfortunately new negative thing is happening. So, it wasn't a new thing. It wasn't any surprising thing. But this time, the people of the country, they were done with everything. You know, they couldn't stand it anymore. Everyone was so angry and mad and, you know, heartbroken of these continuous violations and brutality. And then, actually, one night a friend of mine was calling me and he was asking, OK, for tomorrow's rally and protest in Los Angeles, what should we do? What would you suggest? And I'm like, let's have a huge banner and write down on it that, "This is not a protest anymore. This is a revolution."
Your band's name means bitten by a tarantula. TaranisT is composing music that is essentially protest music. A new thing for TarantisT.
It's not a new thing. Yeah. Since the first day, our music was sociopolitical with the socially conscious material against all this craziness. And these days, fortunately, everyone is activist now, so everyone is doing the protest music and artwork and everything. So, we finally were able to manage it, enjoying everyone's attention.
So, based on what you said a moment ago, is it fair to say that this very public and widespread expression of frustration with life in Iran was just a matter of time in coming? And if so, why do you think it did not happen sooner?
That's a good question. I mean, because of the, you know, majority of that was because of the propaganda. People were still hopeful that something good is going to happen. This occupying regime is going to correct themselves for themselves. It's going to get better. But no, it was all negative advertisements and propaganda. These guys were not correctable. These guys were false and wrong at the first place by invading the country and replacing the condition, the good condition that it was existing before, prior to the revolution of 1979.
And when you say these guys, you're referring to the clerics, the ayatollahs? 
Yes. The ayatollahs. Yes. 
Well, one of your band's tunes translates as, "I Have Had Enough of Your Religion." Who are you speaking to when you say your religion, and how do you describe that religion?
Well, yeah. First, this is one of the slogans, one of the things that people are chanting in the protests. So, I was just turning it into a song and, you know, adding electric guitars and heavy riffs behind it. But this is imposed religion that is, you know, currently going on inside the country which is wrong. It's not religion, to be honest. Religion, it shouldn't be like that. Religion is all about peace and humanity and beautiful things and love. But these guys, the mullahs or whatever, they all talk about brutality and killing the people. And God wants you to be killed in this way. The prophet wants you to be killed in the other way. These are wrong. These are nonsense. These are false.
I mean, that must be such a potent slogan on the streets of Iran to say that your religion, your clerics' religion is bad. 
Yeah. I mean, people are tired of it. People are, you know, they are so sick and tired of all this. 
I mean, there's obviously a certain freedom and luxury that you have to write and sing from your base in California. What's your sense of how your music is being consumed and heard back home? 
Fortunately, it's been getting heard a lot recently. So, through all the social media and like the other media — TV stations, radios, websites everywhere — and not only our band, a lot of other new music is being created every day, artworks and everything, and people are very involved.
That journey since September anyway, has included 10 songs from you and your band all inspired by the current political climate in Iran. How hopeful are you that the tide will eventually turn and that there will be more freedom in Iran?
Eventually, sometime very soon it is going to happen, because like I keep saying it, people in their mind and their, you know, in their thoughts and beliefs, they already got separated from all these false things that the government tries to, you know, impose on their minds. So, sometime very soon it's going to happen. The page is going to turn.
Well, Arash, we're going to sign off with one of your songs that addresses that hope you just expressed. It is named "Free Pigeon" in English. Just briefly, what is the symbolism of a pigeon? 
Well, we dedicated that song to the beautiful souls that were killed during this new movement that started with the death of Mahsa Amini and so many other beautiful young boys and girls that got killed and executed. This is just dedicated to their beautiful souls.
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