After six years of silence in Iran, music of kamencheh master Keyhan Kalhor blared out in Vahdat Concert Hall once more. On Saturday night, May 21, Kalhor and his ensemble performed to a full hall of ardent fans in Tehran.
Kalhor last played in Vahdat Hall with Turkish Bağlama player Erdal Erzincan in 2010. This time he was accompanied by Navid Afghah on Tombak, Ali Bahramifard on Santur and Hadi Azarpira on Tar.
The concert began with a piece by Ali Bahrami entitled Sarmast and proceeded with Parishan by Hadi Azarpira, work based on Kurmanji melody and finally the performance of Taragheh which Kalhor first recorded in his Night, Silence, Desert album in 2000.
In his earlier albums Kalhor played Taragheh on Setar while in his latest concert, he rendered a Kamancheh performance of the piece.
Keyhan Kalhor is the only Iranian musician to have won the Grammy awards four times. Prominent Iranian composer Hossein Alizadeh has referred to Kalhor as “Iran’s most universal musician”.
Kalhor in his most recent concert tour in Iran was supposed to also be playing at the city of Neyshapur for two nights on Tuesday 17 and 18 May. Although the promoter of the program had secured all the necessary permits from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the Neyshapur concerts were cancelled at the eleventh hour by the city’s prosecutor.
In recent years, over twenty concerts in various cities across Iran have been cancelled or banned by city authorities even though Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has issued permits for their performance.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance oversees cultural affairs including the publishing of media, books, music and the public displays of art and culture including concerts. This ministry works as an apparatus of the president of Iran that is Hassan Rouhani’s government. Local authorities in other cities however, might not agree with the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance’s politics and if hardliners are among these local authorities, they might just enforce their own rule of law.
Ali Moradkhani, deputy head Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance’s Arts Department said earlier at every level of government a group is taking decision to cancel concerts based on their own taste and discretion. He stressed that it is vital to have a central decision making process based on the government policies for the performance of concerts in Tehran and all other cities.
The Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ali Jannati, has also said that he has made every effort possible to prevent the cancellation of concerts to no avail. He added that concerts are vital for battling the rising level of depression in the country.
Meanwhile women musicians are being prevented from performing in many cities and their presence is being used as an excuse to cancel concerts.
Shahram Nazeri, another prominent Iranian musician performed a concert in Isfahan on Friday 20 May. In the opening of the concert Nazeri said: “The female members of our orchestra are missing today and it is not fair to prevent someone from expressing their art because of their gender.”
Shahram Nazeri’s concert in Neyshapur was cancelled like that of Kalhor’s and Ali Zand Vakili’s concert in Mashhad’s Shandiz village was also cancelled.
Hossein Noushabasi a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance announced on Friday that a “coordinated effort” is trying to shut down all concerts in the country. Noushabadi appears to be refering to the ultra-conservative backlash taking shape across the country since the reformist government of Hassan Rohani took power in 2013.
The conservative efforts appear to be geared toward discrediting Rohani by preventing his government from providing some relative social liberties to the public as promised in his campaign.
Last June, Keyhan Kalhor’s concert with Brooklyn Rider in Milad Tower was cancelled by security forces again discrediting the Ministry of Guidance which has issued the concert permit. Despite his disappointment and earlier decisions not to perform in Iran again, Kalhor finally managed to perform in Tehran on Friday night but the fate of his following performances scheduled in Yazd, Kermanshah and Khorramabad with all necessary permits remains to be seen.