Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Persian Funk: Bizarre Psychedelic Brilliance

Secret Stash Records, who got their start documenting Afro-Peruvian sounds, have recently issued one of the trippiest albums of the year – on vinyl, no less. “This sounds like Starsky and Hutch, what we were listening to in the 70s,” a senior member of the crew here explained enthusiastically, before the vocals kicked in. The songs and instrumentals on the new Persian Funk compilation date from the early to mid-70s, before the Khomeini counterrevolution in Iran, when musicians there were exploring all kinds of global sounds including American rock and funk. This album actually covers a lot more ground than the title implies: there’s rock, and latin-tinged sounds, and Middle Eastern dance-pop mixed in and sometimes overshadowing the funky grooves. Whichever the case, it’s a fascinating glimpse into a brief period where musical expression was exploding there. This is not to imply that life under the Shah was idyllic – however, there’s no question that the Khomeini-era crackdown on free speech, art and music drove most of it either far underground, or out of the country: as in Afghanistan, anyone who could afford to leave the country did. Some of this has made it to youtube; other tracks here are so obscure that this compilation gets credit for debuting them for a western audience, a major achievement.

The opening track is typical, a period-perfect, moody minor-key vamp with strings and wah guitar that gives way to a Middle Eastern pop song (with lyrics in Farsi) and then returns with the hook. The production is tinny, probably deliberately designed for an audience with transistor radios. Shamaizadeh’s brief instrumental, amusingly titled Hard Groove is a brisk shuffle straight out of the Herbie Hancock soundtrack playbook. Shohreh, a chanteuse, is represented by a Middle Eastern-tinged salsa cut; Morteza, by an excellent, suspenseful, Isaac Hayes-influenced theme with all kinds of deliciously unexpected twists and turns.

Kourosh Yaghmei’s Del Dare Pire Misha is galloping, Black Sabbath-ish funky rock; these days, he makes elevator jazz. Sitarist Mehrpouya, who died in 1993, is represented by a raga so out-of-tune with its rock accompaniment that it’s hilarious, and on the opposite end of the quality spectrum by the lushly orchestrated instrumental Ghabileye Layla. Popular singer Ebi Soli Martik’s song here is completely uncharacteristic for him, a rock number in English which nicks a bad idea from the Moody Blues. Soul siren Googoosh and her band also have two tracks here, the first a creepy instrumental that sounds like it was mastered from a slightly warped 45, the second an absolutely killer cover of Aretha Franklin’s Respect. The best of the rock tunes here, Shahram Shabpareh’s Prison Song (sung in English) sets a wary, McCartneyesque tune to a reggae beat, eerily foreshadowing the persecution that would take place even more brutally in just a few years.

Not only is this a tremendously entertaining window into how Iranian musicians took an American style and invented something completely new, it’s also a clever cross-cultural move by the record label. It’s a powerful reminder of how much the people of Iran resemble us: they detest and fear Ahmedinejad and his mullahs just as much as Americans detested and feared Cheney and his apologists just a few years ago. To quote Linton Kwesi Johnson, freedom is a human necessity. This album is just one crazy, fun example of what people can do with it when they have it.

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June 27, 2011 - Posted by | funk music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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