Northwestern University

Mon 12:00 PM

Soundtrack of the Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran — Nahid Siamdoust (New Directions Lecture)

When: Monday, March 12, 2018
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM  

Where: Harris Hall, Room 108, 1881 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: Free of charge and open to the public.

Contact: Danny Postel  

Group: Middle East and North African Studies

Category: Lectures & Meetings


Music was one of the first casualties of the Iranian Revolution. It was banned in 1979, but it quickly crept back into Iranian culture and politics. The state made use of music for its propaganda during the Iran–Iraq war. Over time music provided an important political space where artists and audiences could engage in social and political debate. Now, more than thirty-five years on, both the children of the revolution and their music have come of age.

In this lecture, Nahid Siamdoust will offer an account of Iranian culture, politics, and social change to provide an alternative history of the Islamic Republic. Drawing on over five years of research in Iran, including during the 2009 protests, Nahid Siamdoust introduces a full cast of characters, from musicians and audience members to state officials, and takes readers into concert halls and underground performances, as well as the state licensing and censorship offices. She closely follows the work of four musicians—a giant of Persian classical music, a government-supported pop star, a rebel rock-and-roller, and an underground rapper—each with markedly different political views and relations with the Iranian government. Taken together, these examinations of musicians and their music shed light on issues at the heart of debates in Iran—about its future and identity, changing notions of religious belief, and the quest for political freedom.

Siamdoust shows that even as state authorities resolve, for now, to allow greater freedoms to Iran's majority young population, they retain control and can punish those who stray too far. But music will continue to offer an opening for debate and defiance. As the 2009 Green Uprising and the 1979 Revolution before it have proven, the invocation of a potent melody or musical verse can unite strangers into a powerful public.

Nahid Siamdoust is the author of Soundtrack of the Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran (Stanford University Press, 2017). She is a Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer at Yale University's MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. She has taught at Oxford University and New York University, and previously worked as a journalist based in Iran and the Middle East for TIME magazine, Der Spiegel, and Al Jazeera English TV.

This lecture is part of the MENA program's quarterly New Directions in Middle East and North African Studies series, which presents scholars from a range of disciplines taking new approaches to the study of the region.

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