With this first mix, Ajam Media Collective is proud to inaugurate its music podcast series. As a regular writer for Ajam and a musician under the moniker Yavaran, I will now be hosting a monthly music podcast as part of a “digital residency” on Ajammc.com.
Calling this podcast series a digital residency is important in many ways. Traditionally, the term “residency” is usually used to refer to a DJ who will spin consistently at the same venue for a set time period, be it a few weeks or a few months. On one hand, I believe the term pays respect to how the internet has been able to give artists who choose to draw on their non-Western influences such as myself a home online, no matter where our physical homes may be and what those home music scenes have to offer. Yet on another level, as many Ajam articles have previously dealt with questioning ideas of diaspora and breaking down ideas of center and periphery when it comes to Persian and Iranian culture, I hope to use this podcast to complicate similar notions of identity, albeit in a sonic form.
For a long time now, Iranian art has been able to find a place on the global stage and in front of global views, be it Iranian film, photography, or painting. However, as recently articulated in a blog post by an Iranian curator for the art group DADABASENYC, the way in which Iranian art is presented can often have a problematic effect on the artwork in question.
Though the blog post focused on visual art, the worries that the author expressed in regards to how Iranian art is praised by outsiders can also apply to music. It often seems that Iranian artists are given the most support when their work deals with what outsiders often deem “Iranian” themes, such as the supposed dichotomy between Islam and modernity, or issues of gender roles in Iran. This then ignores any attempts by Iranian artists to even approach more universal questions, and discourages future gestures in that direction. Similarly, such representations of Iranian art often downplay and exclude Iranian artists in the diaspora. These artists are even further marginalized off by overemphasizing their “Iranian” nature, which often positions the artists’ work as contributions to local, rather than global art practice.
With these criticisms in mind, my goal for these podcasts was not only to showcase a wide variety of Iranian music, but to break through boundaries defining Iranian culture and the relevance of Iranian music by offering a new cosmopolitan vision that connects music from Iran to music from its diaspora, and allows it to participate in the conversation between genuinely global sounds.
This first podcast in our series is a look at Iranian contemporary music in a global context. The music in this mix not only crosses between the genres of hip-hop, rock, and electronic, but also crosses geographic borders. This mix features not only Iranian artists in Iran and in the diaspora, but also a number of non-Iranian acts with whom their music is in conversation. I felt that the only way to really produce a quality mix and not just an exercise in Iranian-cultural-showcase was to present these Iranian artists in the context that the artists themselves created their music in: a truly global aural milieu. While putting the mix together, I often recalled my discussions on music with Iranian musicians and listeners alike that consistently come from a international and diverse view of music as a whole, not just on what “Iranian” music Iranians were creating.
Maintaining this global perspective was particularly important to me in the case of the Yellow Dogs song that we featured in this mix. Despite the untimely death of two of the band’s members, I felt it would not do them justice to honor them simply by including them in a mix of Iranian music, as that was not the only way the band perceived themselves.
Like many other Iranian musicians, Yellow Dogs noted in interviews that although they were proud of their Iranian heritage, they were simply an indie band and wanted to be treated as such. Therefore, while a song by the genre-busting Turkish psychedelic folk artist Baba Zula leads into the Yellow Dogs hit single “Bruce,” the song fades into a song by renowned indie band The XX. This sonically places the Yellow Dogs beyond the pages of rock magazines’ “Middle Eastern” sections, into the global musical milieu to which they have always belonged, and as many of us know, to the level of renown that they truly deserved.
Also included in this mix are two songs by Bei-Ru, a Lebanese-Armenian-American producer and artist whose 2010 release “Little Armenia” was an unabashed celebration of his mixed descent as Armenian growing up in Los Angeles. The beauty of artists like Bei-Ru is that they take questions of identity, diaspora, and language, and resolve them sonically in a way that helps complex identities make sense.
When Bei-Ru’s trademark hip-hop drum breaks come crashing over classic Armenian samples, you really do feel transported into the mind of an Armenian kid growing up in Los Angeles. Yet at the same time, like all the artists on this mix, the music is beautiful and is just as engaging of an experience without an understanding of Bei-Ru’s personal background.
And in that spirit, and truly the spirit of DJing itself, I hoped to present a mix that is fundamentally enjoyable and innovative. Luckily, with such a talented selection of artists to choose from, the work of breaking down musical barriers between genres and nationalities came naturally.
3) M.I.A. – Only 1 U
11) Abjeez – Too Aab