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1- Appeasing the State, Appealing to the Opposition: Iranian Musicians and the Question of (Self)Censorship - Hadi Milanloo, University of Toronto

9:00 AM, Sunday 26 May 2019 (2 hours)
Coffee break   11:00 AM to 11:30 AM (30 minutes)
In the mid-2015, Ajam, a London-based Iranian band active both inside and outside Iran, released their rendition of a Bakhtiari folk song, Dare Vaz Kon. Despite music video’s warm and immediate online reception, a few alterations in the Persian translation of the lyrics raised bitter resentments amongst some audience who interpreted this as Ajam’s submission to the Iranian government’s censorship policies. Analyzing audience’s reaction to this incident on various online platforms and positioning Ajam within the Iranian transnational public (Hemmasi 2017), I examine several strategies that bands such as Ajam employ to ensure their active presence inside Iran under its unpredictable political conditions, while simultaneously satisfying both artistic and political demands of their at-home and diasporic audience. I argue that such investigation complicates our understanding of (self-)censorship (Cloonan 2003; Cook and Heilmann 2013) and challenges the view which categorizes arts as either rebellious against or submissive to the state, and is always eager to expand the notion of (self-)censorship to include the efforts of musicians who work “in the vast gray area that lay between illegal opposition and active promotion of” (Daughtry 2009: 31) authoritarian states. I posit that viewing professional Iranian musicians’ work as a constant navigation through numerous obstacles of different nature allows us to go beyond the restricting resistance-subordination duality (Nooshin 2017) to better grasp the realities of sustaining a musical career whose survival depends on both adapting to the limitations imposed by the state as well as satisfying state’s wide-ranging oppositions.
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