Clampdown on alternative voices

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

The Iranian singer / rapper Tataloo has apparently been arrested.

The Hip Hop scene has been growing in Iran over the last seven years with rappers such as Hichkas and Pishro rising to fame amongst Iranian youth from the urban middle class, but also – as I have suggested in my earlier research – from other parts of society. As Internet access keeps spreading throughout Iran and into the geographical periphery and the ghetto suburbia of Tehran, kids have picked up the microphone and brought Hip Hop into the homes of millions and on to the forefront of a growing underground music scene.

Although Persian rap generally is not overtly political, themes have, as one could and should expect from Hip Hop, tended to be provocative. In exceptionally blunt language heavy with slang and occasional swearing, rappers have described the lives of young people in a world of restlessness, anomy and apathy, about the pressures of economic realities, social restrictions and political repression and about illegal parties, drugs, drinking and dating. The days when the small-minded, humdrum pop of LA’s exile-Iranian scene posed the greatest musical challenge to the Islamic Republic are long gone.

This is the reason why Tataloo was arrested. The conservative website Tâbnâk reported three days ago that ‘a famous and morally corrupt rap singer’ had ‘recently’ been arrested. “With the increasing numbers of rappers and the lack of respect of these individuals for moral and cultural issues, we have witnessed a spread in the use of foul and obscene language to rhythms”, the Tâbnâk article stated. Apparently, Tataloo had performed abroad and was arrested when he returned to Iran.

Tâbnâk suggested what appears to be two kinds of rap in Iran: “Apart from rappers who use foul and obscene language and tries to attract fans by destroying the culture of society, there are also a number of rap groups and singers who uses this new format within the cultural boundaries of our country to express their opinion about issues in society – such as sympathy with the victims of the Bam [earthquake in 2003. H]owever, on the other hand, some people – by choosing wrong Western role models and by disrespecting the principles and foundations of the nation – are promoting a kind of vulgarity and socio-cultural depravity…”.

Finally, Tâbnâk stated that in the near future, “large-scale measures for the arrest of morally corrupt rappers” will be taken. The same threat was allegedly issued a couple of years ago when it was believed Hichkas, Pishro and other rappers had been taken into custody and intimidated by authorities. In online Persian rap forums it is rumored that Tataloo has received a 3-year jail sentence.

It is, by the way, not just fancy performers from the capital who are hit by the authorities’ clampdown on dissident voices in music.

On Monday, Shâr News (a local bureau from the predominantly Kurdish city of Saqqez in Western Iran) reported that two local Kurdish singers are to be sentenced for “propaganda against the [political] Order”. Apparently, Seyyed ‘Ali Hosseini and Mohammad Zarifiyan paid tribute to “a singer associated with a group opposed to the Islamic Republic” at a commemoration in September, during the Ramadan. They can expect to be sentenced between three months and one year in prison.

One response to “Clampdown on alternative voices

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