Rhetoric from Iran is met by melody from Israel
By David E. Kaplan
Isn’t it ironic that while the leadership of Iran threatens Israel with destruction, people in Iran are being inspired by the music of an Israeli, as they bravely take to the streets to protest against this very regime .
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran has considered the Jewish state an enemy, making visiting – and even artistic cooperation – a punishable offense. Now that a song by an Israeli artist has now emerged as the Iranian “protest anthem”, I wonder if the self-proclaimed master of English irony – Jeremy Corbyn – appreciates Iranian ‘irony’?
Resonating across Iran are Israeli Liraz Charhi‘s lyrics:
“Until when will we be silent, until when will we keep our head down?”
With the people no longer “silent” nor keeping their “heads down”, it is little wonder Liraz Charhi’s music has emerged as the soundtrack to Iran protests that were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police after being arrested for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code.
It makes little difference to Iranians of every class and culture who are protesting for a regime change that Chardi has worn the uniform of the Israeli army. As a conscript, music was Chardi’s weapon serving in the military band of the Education and Youth Corps.
Born in Ramla in central Israel to a family of Persian origin, the Israeli actress, singer and dancer is a niece to Israel’s internationally famous singer and actress – Rita. Frequently singing in her native Persian language, Rita has been referred to as a cultural ambassador between Israeli and Iranian citizens hoping to “puncture the wall of tension” between their countries. In this quest her niece Liraz Charhi has joined her.
Charhi told Israel’s Channel 12 that her first album, “NAZ” – which featured Iranian artists – was well received in the Islamic Republic after it was released in 2018.
“Very quickly I received videos of women dancing in underground parties and removing their chador and dancing to these songs,” she said.
Clearly, Charhi was having an impact. She was as the headlines proclaimed:
“….. SINGING FOR HER SISTERS”
Inspired perhaps by the changes that came about in the 1960s fueled by the freedom-loving music of the period, Charhi observes events in Iran with a mixture of fear and hope as her “sisters” protest against the repressive regime by burning their headscarves. “I’ve always believed women can make the revolution in Iran – we have the force to create change!”
Especially these days she asserts:
“I’m very proud of my sisters and I support them and am with them in every breath.”
While Charhi grew up in a traditional Iranian home with Farsi-speaking, Persian-Jewish parents, as an Israeli she has never been allowed to visit the land of her heritage. But profoundly connected she is.
If unable to visit Iran with her body, she does so with her personality and talent.
ROYA IS REALISED
The saga behind the production of her latest album ROYA is most revealing. It was something like out of the Israeli award-winning spy thriller ‘Tehran’ in which Charhi stars as a Mossad agent. Cutting the album ROYA became a covert mission necessitating to secretly meet with the Iranian musicians – including women – at a recording studio in Istanbul. It was so risky that Charhi only revealed to her family only the day before she left Israel. “Not evern my manager believed it would actually happen,” she says.
“Liraz, this is dangerous. Are you sure?’ he said to her to which she replied:
“It will happen.”
Turkey was selected as it’s one of the few countries Iranians can travel to without a visa. Nevertheless, the artists came on the condition that their faces would be blurred in any photographs taken and that their names would not be published anywhere.
It could have been out of the script of the ‘Tehran’ mini-series. While quietly buying the air tickets for her Israeli band members, Charhi then hired a Turkish company to look after the ‘unnamed’ Iranian musicians, who would be met by security at the airport in Istanbul and taken secretly to the studio.
“I knew that they would come,” she says. The fact that they were participating anonymously “meant they did not do it for money or publicity. They did it because we’re sharing the same dream and the same hope of meeting together and bringing our music and our love to the world.”
This resonated with the name of the album
ROYA, which in Persian means ‘fantasy’ or ‘dream’.
For all her conviction, until the minute the musicians landed in Istanbul and were united in the underground studio with her Israeli band of three women and three men, Charhi was more than anxious.
“I kind of fainted in the recording,” she says. “I felt that I could not sing.” This fear permeated in the song recorded Tunha, meaning “alone”. It came through in a slight quiver in her voice lending authenticity to what these musicians were going through just to make a recording!
She could so easily have been “alone” – in the sense without her Iranians – but as Herzl wrote, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
It turned out it was no dream. ROYA had been realized.
Charhi was moved by their bravery.
“I waited all my life to meet my friends and family from Iran; the fact that you weren’t afraid and were brave is… WOW,” said Charhi as she welcomed the musicians on their safe arrival at the studio in Istanbul.
One of the musicians told Channel 12:
“I know this might be dangerous, but I do what I love.”
Charhi’s cause-driven cultural mission continued unabated. Following the recording of the album, she went on tour over the summer when she was offered an opportunity by the Jewish Culture Festival to perform with her Iranian musicians at the Old Synagogue in Krakow, Poland.
Incredibly, the Iranians agreed as long as they were masked so golden hijabs were woven to conceal their identities. However, one of the artists insisted on showing part of her hair and was later identified and suffered repercussions in Iran for performing with an Israeli.
I Have a Dream
Since the outbreak of protests in Iran which have claimed over 200 lives so far – including over 28 children – at the hands of the security services, Charhi has received messages of support from fans in Iran over Instagram.
“Thank you for being our voice, I will never be forgotten,” one message read.
“I love your songs in Persian and hope that one day you will sing in beautiful Tehran,” another supporter wrote.
This second message brought back memories for me when I interviewed Charhi’s aunt Rita in in 2014 for Hilton Israel Magazine. Iranian-born Israeli pop singer and actress, Rita has mesmerized audiences globally from concert halls to Britain’s House of Lords and the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York. Her message has always one of love – that music unites people irrespective of their religion and nationality.
When I asked, “What’s next?” she replied:
.“There is a saying in Arabic that says, ‘Throw your heart forward and fetch it.’ It does not matter if the dream is realistic or reasonable but one has to chase it. My dream is to sing in Persian in Iran.”
“You really believe this will happen,” I asked
“Yes,” she said and then with a broad smile, “and still when I have my own teeth.”
Who knows, maybe sometime soon, niece and aunt will fulfill their dream of singing in Iran in Persian.
May the Tehran of tomorrow be the location not of spy thrillers but musical concerts.
As a plan it ‘SOUNDS’ GOOD!
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