Tales of Two Countries

In Iran it is considered a violation of Muslim law while in the streets of Dakar, Senegal music pulses in the streets and defines the culture. Two excellent reports of how cultures embrace or oppress musical expression.

Report From Iran:

By Robert Fisk

This article was originally published in the Independent.

I heard them in a narrow street in north Tehran, not one of the rich villa-lined avenues we associate with the Iranian middle classes but a tired thoroughfare of overheated plane trees and shabby, two-storey offices in grey concrete.

The sound was of a scratched record, a 78-rpm rather than a 33-and-a-third – iPod addicts, please consult your elders – and when I turned to my driver, he assured me there must be some morning party up the road with an old gramophone. But I used to play the violin, and I didn’t believe him. And sure enough, down the street came the troubadours.

Yes, real live troubadours in the real live Islamic Republic, two of them, hacking at a violin and beating on a “zarb” drum, the work of the classical Persian musicians, a combination – for a westerner – of gypsy and nursery melodies, a sudden revelation of 14th- and 15th-century music in a regime which aspires to the purity of the 8th. Habibullah Zendegani introduced himself very quietly – it felt that way after the rasping violin pulsating through the Italian loudspeaker on his back (hence the illusion of recorded music) – and said he was only 26 but had been playing for 15 years, inspired by that master of the Iranian violin, Bijan Mortazavi. Beside him, Ramezan Souratipour banged away happily on the drum under his arm, one of a thousand little drummers in Iran – he is 32, but a diminutive figure – whose fingers dab three to a second to Zandegani’s violin. Article continues here

Dakar Takes a New TuneReport From Dakar:

Published: December 6, 2009

“I LOVE the evening in Dakar,” says Youssou N’Dour, glancing out the darkened window of an S.U.V. at the nocturnal crowds streaming into his nightclub, Thiossane, as a warm West African breeze rustles the palms and stirs up the dirt in the unpaved parking lot.


They arrive by foot, car, scooter and battered black-and-yellow taxi, dolled up in their Saturday best for the imminent wee-hours concert by Mr. N’Dour, Africa’s biggest music star. “It’s a city that really comes alive at night.”

Though he has recently returned to Dakar, the Senegalese capital, from a gala in New York City for the international Keep a Child Alive charity — where he sang with Alicia Keys and was honored alongside Bill Clinton and Richard Branson — Mr. N’Dour sounds more like a wistful local kid than a 50-year-old global icon who has won a Grammy Award and was once named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.” “I’m still very attached to Dakar,” he goes on, adding that he was born in a working-class neighborhood a few miles from the club. “And the people of Dakar are very attached to my music.” Article continues here

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