Last Saturday, Iranian people were taken by surprise in a strange way. The Good Morning Iran Show for IRIB’s Channel 1, broadcasted music from the group Avaye Parsian (Persian voice)! The group, led by musician Saman Alipour, consists of kamancheh (a bowed string instrument) santoor (a trapezoid-shaped dulcimer) played by wooden hammers and tar (lute). You might think that it is pretty normal to show traditional instruments on TV, but this is really unusual for Iranian people. They were even not sure if they were dreaming or not. For many of them it was the first time they had seen such instruments on national television.
In fact, in Iran all kinds of musical instruments have been banned on state TV for more than three decades. Only singers are allowed in front of the cameras. In the following hours, the most popular social media were filled with thousands of screenshots of this “tiny revolution”. Enthusiastic comments and lots of international newspapers reported the news giving it an incredible impact worldwide. It was just a tiny revolution. Not only did the broadcast last for 10 seconds, a few hours later producer Gholamreza Bakhtiari blew away all hopes: “The footage of instruments which was aired, has nothing to do with a change in the approach or practice of IRIB, and it was just an unintentional mistake by us” (Fars News Agency).
All this happens in a moment where the “moderate” president Hassan Rouhani started to use Twitter to make some interesting statements about freedom of arts. On January 8, Rouhani spoke during a meeting attended by a large number of artists and – even though it’s not clear who is really managing his account – his Twitter account reported the evening as follows: Art should be under the supervision of artists, not the Government–at the gathering of artists tonight at Vahdat Hall (The Iran Primer)
As an illuminated president he expressed his concern about the National Orchestra dissolved in October 2012 because of financial problems: Heartbroken to see Iranian National Orchestra shut down. Hope to revive it shortly,though it may result in another yellow card (from Majlis)
And he encourages the artist on Twitter to take part in Iran’s social and political life: With prominent Iranian artists who add color & beauty to our society through their music, acting, calligraphy & poetry
Because: If we have clear & transparent rules, we can assign many tasks (normally carried out by Gov) to guilds and art organizations, who love #Iran
Forgetting that women are still banned from singing as soloists for male audiences, he relaunched on Twitter the role of women in arts and especially in cinema: In post-revolutionary Iranian cinema, women have been brilliant not only as actresses, but as directors & screenwriters
And he gave us on Twitter something that today can be easily shared on social media as an inspirational artists quote: Art without freedom is meaningless. #RouhaniLive
Meanwhile, in everyday Iran, reformist newspapers are banned and, as reported by many international observers: “online activists and underground musicians have been detained, journalists harassed, […] and the culture minister rebuked by the hardline-dominated parliament for his “liberal” stance on internet and media freedoms“. Amnesty International reported also an alarming surge in executions – already 40 in 2014 (Human Rights and Democracy Library).
Some musicians however – whether the ban of musical instruments has been broken or not – found the way to bypass it without breaking any rule…