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October 26, 2020

Roqe Read #3: Negin re Episode #54, Reza Rohani

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Negin 

Toronto

Reza Rohani and The Flight of Talent​

What price is to be paid for not being able to follow your passion in your own home country? Is it always exodus? And do talented people, and those who push the boundaries and think outside of the box, always have to leave Iran to be authentic and successful? And what does that leave behind in the place of ancestry of so many of us in the diaspora?

This comes to mind upon hearing Episode #54 of Roqe and the story of Reza Rohani.

Reza is the son of the famous composer and pianist, Maestro Anoushiravan Rohani. Like his father, Reza is a pianist, a musician, and a composer. But unlike his more traditional dad, it seems Reza ultimately had to leave Iran simply because his music transcended acceptable thresholds set forth by Iranian authorities.

As an active and culturally-interested member of the Iranian diaspora, I find myself regularly torn between nostalgia for the familiar, and an urge for a novel and foreign experience. Persian jazz and jazz fusion music somehow seems to satisfy those conflicting interests. I’m a fan of jazz and was aware of Reza Rohani.

Mind you, I have to admit that before hearing this interview, I had heard some of Reza’s jazz but mostly knew him as the protégé of his father, and one of the judges of the Stage program on Manoto. This interview gave me insight into Reza’s life and challenges. It was a warm and connected conversation with Jian. But the takeaway as well for me was that I learned that despite his hopeful and positive disposition, there were many obstacles in his musical career. Some of which involved making music that just doesn’t “fit” with Iran under the current regime.

Reza was born in 1977 into a family of musicians who cradled him with love for music. Naturally, Reza started playing the piano from a young age under the guidance and mentorship of his father. At the age of fifteen he left Iran and was sent to Germany to study classical music. While attending the Bavarian College of music, Reza took a keen interest in jazz music, which today has become a distinguishing trait of Reza’s compositions and performances. When Reza finished his musical education and returned to Iran, he soon found himself caught between his creative aspirations and the harsh reality of being a progressive musician in Iran. Many of Reza’s songs were banned in Iran, and in order to pursue his musical dreams and vision, he left Iran to find a place with a more fertile and diverse and open music industry.

Reza Rohani now lives in California and creates music, which in his own words is not simply Iranian or western music, but a new genre that entails critical elements of both cultures. When I heard Reza’s life journey, I could not help but to feel sad. Reza is a successful artist with a positive outlook on life and from a good lineage.

He deserves to be praised and recognized in his home country. And he clearly is not unhappy with his disposition. But even when faced with a success story like Reza Rohani, I am still confronted with the reality of someone having to leave their homeland in order to find their dreams. And it invites questions…if the creative and progressive talents are always in flight, what is left behind? And do we thereby define “Iranian culture” by some of the wealth of talent, like Reza Rohani, we have in the diaspora? And if so, what is left for “culture” inside Iran?

I invite comments or thoughts on this. Feel free to leave your words below…

October 1, 2020

Roqe Read #2: Navan re Episode #44, Farid Zoland

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Navan. 23

Toronto

Major Streams, Minor Dollars

Hello friends! I am Navan and this is the second Roqe Read.
As a singer and songwriter, I will never forget the first song I wrote; when I listened to it for the first time, the head rush was unexplainable; It made me feel as though I had created an art piece. Ever since, for the majority of songs that I write I get the same sense within me. Listening back, I can’t resist closing my eyes, swinging my head, and feeling the love and emotions I put into writing it.

Like most younger singers, I did not choose this path for its monetary aspect; I chose it for the sensation that I get from singing and writing songs. This is especially common in the Persian music industry, and specifically for those living in the diaspora. An artist can write a song and it can get millions of views from different platforms like Telegram and Radio Javan, but the monetary return is minor or often zero.
This is not at all the case in Western music where composers and writers get full credit and compensation. So why is this the case with us? Simply, because royalty and copyright laws are almost absent in the Persian music industry.

The 44 th episode of Roqe, with the legendary composer Farid Zoland, made me realize that our love of great songs is rich among Iranian artists and audiences, but so are royalty and copyright violations.

If you know any popular Iranian music, and you were to sit down and think about ten of your favourite Persian songs of all time, whether from Ebi, Hayedeh, Dariush, Googoosh or any other legendary singers, it’s entirely likely that at least a couple of those songs have emerged from the brilliant creativity of Farid Zoland.

Farid Zoland is a one-of-a-kind composer who has written more than 261 popular songs (many of them mega-hits) for the most well-known performers to come from Iran over the past 50 years. The 44 th Episode of Roqe is an epic and compelling conversation between Mr. Zoland and Jian. It is an interview that gives the audience a fiesta of feelings…from laughter to anger.

Now, you may be reading the first parts of this piece thinking, “Farid who?” And that is part of the focus of the interview. Most Western artists and composers are known for a couple songs that took off and made them millions of dollars; Farid Zoland, just like many other Iranian composers, has made virtually nothing from royalty fees for songs that have millions of streams online (let alone being played on the radio, TV or in concerts).

To put this into perspective, let us use Spotify and YouTube, two music streaming platforms, as examples. 1,000,000 views on Spotify generates approximately $7,000 for the composer (CNBC, 2018) ; YouTube can generate anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 for the same amount of streams. Farid Zoland’s “Atre To”, performed by Ebi, has 1.9 million views on YouTube, uploaded from Ebi’s official account. In the credit section, there is no mention of the name of the composer nor the Lyricist, Shahyar Ghanbari.
This likely means that neither of them has received a cent from this song through YouTube. What saddened me the most was Shahyar Ghanbari’s own comment under the video on YouTube “ LYRICS: SHAHYAR GHANBARI – MUSIC FARID ZOLAND” ( YouTube ).

In this interview, Farid Zoland’s words are heartbreaking. I could hear the anger and sadness in his expressions. He and several iconic composers and lyricists like Hassan Shamaezadeh, Ardalan Sarfaraz, and Iraj Janati Ataei have joined to take the legal route to collect their financial rights. Farid explains to Jian that the singers he is involved in suing for compensation are his friends. Or were. And yet, they refuse to pay the portion of the rights belonging to other parties involved in the song. Zoland describes the endless hours and the sea of emotions he pours into composing his songs for these singers; millions of streams, millions of memories for millions of people. But Farid Zoland now hates to hear those songs because of the pain of his rights being violated and a general lack of recognition.

Of course, this violation of international copyrights for Iranian composer and writers is not just about Farid Zoland alone. This is a systematic issue running into every thread of the Persian music industry. It may be true that copyright laws are not well respected and enforced in Iran; yet, when mega-artists, now living in the U.S, who receive $250,000 or the like for private performances, fail to respect the fair remuneration of the songwriters and the lyricists, a sense of outrage fills my mind.

As a singer and lyricist myself, with each day, I am learning the importance of copyright and giving credit to all people involved in the production process of a song. Farid Zoland is an iconic composer with hundreds of millions of streams and dozens of huge hit songs ranging from the 1970s to today. The same Farid Zoland is paying thousands of dollars in legal costs to simply ask artists to pay the royalty fees that belong to him. Unfairness is understatement for this kind of treatment. The absence of royalty rights is likely a top factor discouraging brilliant young Iranian talents to put their passion into use. I strongly hope for a thorough systematic change in the way composers and lyricists’ right are respected and hope artists like Farid Zoland can collect their royalty rights in a near future.

September 7, 2020

Roqe Read #1: Navan re Episode #38, Abbas Milani

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Navan. 23

Toronto

The Brainwashed Me

Hi. Welcome. This is our first Roqe Read! My name is Navan. I am a singer, songwriter and a musician who also happens to have an enthusiasm for writing. Aside from my creative side, I am a recent graduate with a commerce degree. For some reason, the fancy parts of my field of study didn’t interest me enough so I ended up majoring in Business Law. I moved to Canada when I was twelve from Tehran. I recently decided to put my writing passion into practice which is why I will provide you with a quick read outlining parts of the Roqe podcast that I think are a “must listen”. In this and (hopefully!) future blogs, I will reference the minute of the episode for your convenience to go and check it out. To make it even easier for you, I will embed the link in each reference so that you are only a click away from accessingthe episode.

Where is Home?

I left Iran ten years ago as a youth who was full of pride and hope for his home country. A decade later, I have a crippling pride; one that makes me run away from my deep Persian roots. Over the last ten years I have distanced myself from reading news about Iran - the place where I passed the sweetest years of my childhood. Every written piece with the name of my country- my home- is often entrenched with negativity and heartbreaking sadness. I remember when I heard the news of the airplane getting shot down by Iranian authorities earlier this year, I was anxiously walking back and forth in my room thinking “what are they doing to my people?”. Ever since, my hope towards a democratic Iran has faded, forcefully making me pretend that maybe Canada is my home; Maybe Toronto is my city…that is…until I heard the latest Roqe episode with Abbas Milani ( YouTube ).

The Iranian Revolution, an Absolute Failure I surprised myself by how much this interview affected me. I found the episode so interesting that I listened to it twice. Today, the global population constantly questions traditional views towards historical figures and events, causing protests where participants destroy centuries’ old monuments.


The conversation between Jian and Abbas Milani questions the common notions towards the Shah and the Islamic regime, keeping me engaged until the last second. Roqe’s episode 38, sheds light on an era that often-whether negative or positive, is spoken with bias. Milani calls the Iranian revolution “an absolute failure”, considering the initial stated objectives of Khomeini; he further elaborates that the Islamic leader’s goal was to have a solid Islamic society rather than an economically strong one. Despite this failure, Milani suggests a second revolution within forty years may be “too much to expect” from Iranians; especially when Iran’s population is consistently being monitored with the great intellectual technologies that the regime harnesses ( 1:13:45 ).

The Shy Shah?

I studied in Iran until the age of twelve and the history taught in schools was extremely biased against the Pahlavi’s, or frankly against all monarchies before the Islamic regime. I often wondered why the Shah was consistently called a “violent leader” or a “U.S Puppet”. Jian and Mr. Milani extensively discuss the character of the Shah where the guest suggests he was too timid, at times, to use violence against his own people. Recent declassified documents also demonstrate Mohammad Reza Shah’s independence from the U.S and the British, where he initiated nuclear energy plants against the foreign leaders’ wishes. These notions made me rethink my socialized views towards the last Pahlavi leader and encouraged me to question my traditional perspective towards my home country ( 00:19:00 ). I cannot be sure exactly what the Shah was like. But I am now more inspired to ask questions about all that I had learned.

The Sweet Moment of Pride

Aside from all the intellectual questions, the last couple minutes of this conversation made me tear up. Jian asks, “what does being an Iranian means to Abbas Milani?” Milani speaks with pride about his country of origin, saying that Iran is “one of the most remarkable civilizations that the world has ever known; this is a culture that’s given us Zoroastrianism, one of the most influential religions in the world”; he speaks of Iranians creating multicultural empires that promoted human rights and about Irangifting the world with some of the greatest architects. On the other hand, Milani also mentions that our history contains a mixture of barbarian deeds referencing the killing of many by Persian historical figures; nevertheless, he emphasizes that this combination should carefully be taken into consideration.


Milani encourages Iranians to take a stance against the current views towards Iran, informing the world that this regime does not represent our Iran and says, “Iran is Iran”. Abbas Milani’s one-minute response made me take a deep breath. Strangely, I had a slight smile on my face while tears were running from my eyes. Maybe it is best for us to reflect on our past more than what we see on our social media feeds.
Maybe we are victims of historical brainwashing? Maybe we should take a pause from living in a denial of our roots and speak up against stereotypical views? Maybe all of that. I am re-learning that we originated in a rich soil where the greatest empires took shape    ( 1:25:50 ). Maybe that’s worth a lot.

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