Ajam Mixtape Series Roundup

As the Ajam Media Collective mixtape series nears the double digits, we present this roundup of previous mixtapes to allow you to catch up on any mixes you may have missed, or give you a chance to revisit your favorites.

If you’re new to Ajam Media Collective, here’s what you need to know: almost every month, our digital resident and editor Kamyar Jarahzadeh (aka Yavaran) presents a short mix on a theme related to the kind of topics we cover at Ajam. Each curated collection of songs attempts to break down preconceived notions of culture, territory, and history. In turn, the music presents an alternative way to think about the relationships between peoples throughout time that rearrange typical conceptions of the center and production of cultural production. “World” music compilations often imply that there is “music,” which is created in the Global North and exported internationally, and then there is “world music,” that at best mimics tropes from these mainstream traditions.

With these mixes, however, we seem to break down these conceptions and offer a more complex reading of global music history. For example, one of the first mixes in this was a look at psychedelic rock in Iran and the region. The goal of this mix was to not only present an enjoyable selection of songs but also use the mix format to better represent the influences and worldview of artists in the 1960s and 1970s. The collection of songs in this instance provides evidence that psychedelic musicians from Iranian and Southwest Asia were not simply trying to copy their western counterparts, but indeed had their own artistic visions that drew on a variety of inspirations beyond European and American records.

Below, our digital resident presents a short guide to the previous mixtapes. Click through the links to learn even more about each podcast and listen to the mixes online. To learn more about the curator of these mixes, you can check out the Yavaran Facebook page.

Ajam Mixtape #1: Iranian Contemporary Music in Global Context

This first mixtape in the series presents a sonic introduction to the wide scope of Iranian contemporary music. The songs span genres and even languages in the hope of shattering any preconceived notions of Iranian popular music as “limited” or “peripheral.” The music was curated with a particularly global context in mind: it features Iranian artists in Iran and in the diaspora alongside a number of non-Iranian acts with which the music is in conversation. Such a musical collage attempts to apply the mix format to rearrange people’s perceptions of “Iranian” and “world” music, and instead encourage listeners to understand the way in which supposedly “ethnic” music artists are rather themselves members of the global music community.


Ajam Mixtape #2: Psychedelic Sounds from Iran and Beyond

Our most popular mix so far, Iranian psychedelic is one of those genres of Iranian music that seems to have serious global appeal. The goal of this mix was to avoid any provincializing of Iranian psychedelic music and move away from the “novelty” factor in common representations of the genre. Instead, the combination of songs from Iran, Afghanistan, America, and beyond suggest that this era of music was more than the “Global South” mimicking the sounds of the “North.” In reality psychedelic rock allowed Iranian artists to engage in musical dialogue with Western music, local sounds, and the sounds of neighboring countries.


Ajam Mixtape #3: Sounds of Nowruz

In the spirit of the season, this was a Persian New Year (Nowruz) podcast to help ring in the New Year holiday as shared by many nations and groups across Europe and Asia. Still, the mix has year-round appeal as it also serves as a sampler of some of the unique music traditions of ethnic groups that celebrate Nowruz, be they inside of Iran or in nearby Central Asia, Iraq, Turkey, and Azerbaijan, or even in the Balkans. Aside from Persian Iranian Nowruz music, the mixtape also features songs in Azeri Turkish, Kurdish, and Uyghur.


Ajam Mixtape #4: Influential Voices of Iranian Hip Hop 

Iranian hip-hop has had its moments in the global spotlight, notably in Bahman Ghobadi’s film No One Knows About Persian Cats. In the years since, this music has continued to evolve and as a producer with a strong DJ background, I really hoped to create a DJ mix to present the current sound of Iranian hip-hop. The accompanying article provides a look at the origins of Iranian hip-hop, and even sheds light on the ongoing debate of who truly “gave birth” to Iranian rap. In typical Ajam style, there are a few surprise and hard to find tracks on this mix, such as a great instrumental by Palestinian hip-hop collective Ramallah Underground.


Ajam Mixtape #5: Jazz in Iran through the Decades

This is one of the first mixes in the series that was less of a DJ mix, and more of a guided journey through jazz as it relates to Iran and the region. The podcast features songs both performed and composed by Iranian artists, but also compositions that were inspired by Iran and created by American and European jazz legends.


Ajam Mixtape #6: Folk and Avant-Garde

In retrospect, this may have been one of the most adventurous mixes that I tried to compile for Ajam Media Collective. The goal for this mix was twofold: present a sample of Iran’s diverse folk traditions, and also show the ongoing development of these traditions, especially in the musical avant-garde.  This one was a complex but definitely rewarding mix.


Ajam Mixtape #7: Diaspora Pop Classics

This mixtape stands out as being particularly true to the format: the majority of the songs on it probably saw their first release on actual cassette tape. This danceable series of tracks presented a look at pop music of the Iranian and larger Southwest Asian diaspora in the 1980s and 1990s. Not only is this mix guaranteed to elicit a hip shake or two, but the continuity between the songs gives listenable proof of the historic and ongoing connections between the pop traditions of these different yet related languages, ethnicities, and nationalities. The accompanying article similarly provides an interesting look at the development of diaspora pop at this time.


Ajam Mixtape #8: Shared Songs

While this whole series has drawn largely on musical comparison as a way to highlight certain themes, this mix examines relationships between cultures through a particularly unique medium: by highlighting songs that are shared across different traditions and sometimes languages. Each set of songs is accompanied by some regional and historical context that demonstrate how some cultural boundaries that now seem so politically charged as to be impassable, were in different historical moments nearly irrelevant. History aside, an unavoidable negative aspect of this mix is that some of the tunes presented are frustratingly catchy, perhaps explaining why they were able to have such a wide reach.

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