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Iran's soulful voice stings hardline regime

By Azadeh Ansari, CNN
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Iran's soulful voice stings hardliners
  • Iranian musician is using his voice like never before
  • Mohammad Reza Shajarian protested the Islamic regime's use of one of his anthems sung during the 1979 revolution
  • His music is critical of Iran's crackdown on post-election protesters
  • Iran
  • Political Dissent
  • Music

(CNN) -- A year after a fierce crackdown silenced erupting street protests, not many Iranians living in the country can defy the hardline Islamic government without fearing for their life.

But Mohammad Reza Shajarian, is using his voice like never before.

"Art by its nature is a form of objection," the legendary musician said in an interview during his tour of the United States. "It can object against love, life, or governments and when art becomes rebellious, it can intimidate governments."

Shajarian, 69, sparked his a high-profile protest last year when he publicly objected to state TV and radio broadcasting one of his most popular anthems, "Iran, Ey Saraye Omid" (Iran, the land of Hope), to celebrate the contested re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The song was first performed by Shajarian back in the early days of the 1979 revolution when a popular movement dethroned the Shah. Shajarian was outraged the current Iranian government used his work to drum up patriotic support.

"I'm not going to allow my own work to be used against me," said Shajarian, an outspoken critic of the hardline regime.

In order to channel his own discontent with the escalating violence at the time, Shajarian collaborated with his colleagues and within a day composed "Zabaneh Atash" (Language of Fire) to capture the political and social climate of the post-election fallout. The song begins this way:

Lay down your guns!

I am tired of this gruesome needless shedding of blood

Whether the gun is in your hand or another's

It is the language of fire and mayhem

Shajarian's new release became an instant hit as a battle cry especially for Iran's youth, many of whom are clamoring for change.

"You shouldn't beat people over the head with guns, you have to talk to them logically," Shajarian said.

Shajarian spent most of his life in Iran and was one of a handful of musicians the Islamic regime allowed to stay and perform in the country after the 1979 revolution. But he has also been met with opposition and has only been able to perform in fewer than a dozen concerts in Iran over the past three decades.

Shajarian's interpretations of Persian poetry is lyrical, his voice soulful. He music has captivated Iranians for decades but he has also earned international accolades, including the UNESCO Mozart Medal, the Golden Picasso Medal and two Grammy nominations.

In an effort to encourage cross cultural dialogue and reinvigorate Iran's traditional music profile, Shajarian recently toured Australia, the United States and Canada with 16-member Shahnaz Ensamble, comprised of some of Iran's finest classical musicians.

Also on stage with him was his daughter Mojgan, who is breaking barriers as a solo female vocalist. Under Iranian law, women can only perform in part of a larger group and soloists are limited to women-only audiences.

"It doesn't make any logical sense to forbid women from singing solo," Shajarian said. "There is this impression that a women's voice can arouse a man but does a man's voice not arouse a women? What kind of arousal?"

Shajarian remains a strong voice of the Iranian people. He is a voice for change.