A performance during the music festival in Bushehr (February 2024)

Iran Halts Music Fest As It Teases Diaspora Singer's Return

Monday, 03/04/2024

While the Iranian Foreign Ministry teased Iranians with "good news" of an LA-based singer's potential return from exile, the government abruptly halted a beloved 10-day music festival in Bushehr.

Like most decisions made by Iranian officials, these decisions were also contradictory and controversial. On the one hand the government is trying to trumpet good mood among Iranians ahead of the 1 March election to lure reluctant voters to the polls, and on the other hand, by shutting down a festival that has been going on for its third year, it proved that it is against culture, and cultural activities if they are not necessarily consistent with the regime's ideology.

Nasrallah Moein, a renowned Esfahani singer residing in the US since the 1979 Islamic revolution, remains banned officially in Iran, yet his music resonates with millions. No wedding ceremony or birthday in Iran is complete without a few songs by Moein and other diaspora singers like him. Some of his songs have even religious motifs, yet the government is against rhythmic dance music.

Last month, Iran's Culture Minister Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili said that Moein can come back to Iran although he should seek permission from the authorities to perform. At the same time, an Iranian lawyer warned that the singer will have to go to jail for at least 28 years before he could even think of singing in public.

A performance during the music festival in Bushehr (February 2024)

However, Hassan Shamaizadeh, another popular Iranian singer in Los Angeles wrote in a social media post that Moein laughed at the news of his return to Iran, knowing what the government would do once they have him in their hands.

The saga hinges on officials' interpretation of a 1980s song by Moein expressing a desire to return to Esfahan.

The Music festival in Bushehr initiated by locals three years ago, attracted thousands annually. It centered on reciting and singing the poems of renowned Iranian poet such as the mystic Omar Khayyam.

For nine nights, the guests and musicians from all over Iran sang Khayyam's song which are invariably about man's life being precious, but otherwise short. Khayyam's teaching about enjoying life while it lasts is in absolute contrast to the regime's fatalistic ideology which is all about death and martyrdom.

On the tenth night, festivities abruptly halted when security forces intervened, disappointing attendees eager for Lorestan's musical performance. Organizers managed a private closing ceremony, lamenting the missed opportunity for public celebration.

A performance during the music festival in Bushehr (February 2024)

According to Khabar Online website in Tehran, the organizers of the festival, however, managed to celebrate the final ceremony with Lorestan's musicians behind closed doors without the public being there to enjoy the music and dance.

Shyly criticizing the security officers, Khabar Online asked: "What do the people in southern Iran have other than their pains and their dances?" Local people and musicians say the reason for the authorities' sensitivity was that visitors from other cities continued singing and dancing in the streets of Bushehr every night until the next morning.”

Even Islamic Republic officials have said at times that Iranians desperately need to enjoy life as they are overwhelmed by all sorts of economic and social pressures. Despite the acknowledgement, in the conflict between their outdated ideology and people's intellectual and emotional needs they always take side with the ideology and that is one of the main issues that separate the Iranian people from their government.

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