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Michal Shapiro

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Hafez meets ZZ Top at Asia Society

The press release I received referred to Mosehn Namjoo as the "Iranian Bob Dylan." Part of me reacted with "huh?" but after a bit of consideration, I read on, and decided to check him out. A few weeks later I found myself at the Asia Society concert space amongst an audience generously peppered with Iranian Americans of every stripe. Mr. Namjoo (who in profile almost does look like the iconic 1966 Milton Glaser poster of Dylan) introduced the songs in English, but most of the lyrics were in Farsi.

 

Hafez meets ZZ Top at Asia Society from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.



So what did they mean by the "Iranian Bob Dylan?" Did it apply in any way? The answer is a qualified "yes." While Mr. Namjoo, as far as I know has not written the equivalent of "The Ballad of Medgar Evers" or "Masters of War" he has ventured into an eclecticism and irreverence that have landed him in hot waters in his homeland.

It is this eclecticism and his dogged demand for artistic freedom that relates to Dylan. While he is considered a respected renegade with a cult following here, the powers that be in Iran are less charitable. He was sentenced to five years in jail for a recording in which he set the words of the Koran to rock music. He was out of the country when he was sentenced; he has not returned to his native land since. Was his "transgression" an intentional blasphemy? I personally think not; to me it was a plainly risky decision, and an artistic venture; not disrespect.

Of the two songs I have chosen to present, the first demonstrates his vocal range, and his mastery of traditional forms. Namjoo has an impressive voice, and easily negotiates the ornamental ululations and heroic tenor tones of classic Iranian, Central Asian and in this case, Azeri, singing. He also has a strong lower register, making for very range-y interpretations of material. The second song demonstrates his unorthodox approach to orthodox material. In Iran, poetry, and particularly the poetry of Hafez is held in extremely high esteem. Settings of his poems to music abound, but are classical, and therefor to be performed strictly within a set of specific parameters. In my video, Mr. Namjoo has set the words of Hafez to a boogie beat (He references ZZ Top, but it could just as easily have been Wang Dang Doodle).

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