For this installment of the Ajam Media Collective mixtapes, we’ve asked our digital resident Yavaran to put together a series of songs about weddings and wedding culture in Iran and the surrounding region.
What is a wedding tradition? Who gets to claim a wedding tradition as authentically theirs? We hear claims of “authentic Persian” cultural traditions that have somehow endured 2,000 years of history and are so uniquely distinct from all other types of weddings that anyone from a neighboring country would have a hard time recognizing it as a nuptial ritual. Too often, we fall victim to thinking of wedding traditions as neatly bounded by the borders between countries.
But more often, it is impossible to pinpoint the differences between a wedding in Iran and one in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, or any other neighboring region. In fact, you might find more in common between a Tabrizi and a Baku wedding, or between a Bandari wedding and an Indian one. When we start with the modern state as the unit for any cultural analysis, we lose the ability to draw connections between wedding traditions so rich and so inherently transnational in nature.
While there is undeniably an “Iranian culture,” overemphasizing this label can erase cultural continuities and differences. For example, practices with multiple nights of festivities, such as parties held by both the groom and the bride’s family and a henna night, remain common in certain parts of Iran such as the southwestern province of Khuzestan. The mix even includes a Lori song entitled “Aroos Bezan Hannaban,” in which the narrator is celebrating the taking of a bride to the henna ceremony and giving instructions to the henna artist. These traditions, old as they may be, are not free from the pressures of time. Historically, in some areas, both women and men held separate henna parties. Today, as this particular song attests, women tend to claim the henna nights as their celebratory realm (“shaadi zanuneh emshu” or “women’s happiness/celebration tonight”). Such a simple and gendered exclusion demonstrates how a broader shift in ideas of masculinity and femininity have also changed traditions that we so often construe as timeless.
Similarly, this mix includes Morteza Ahmadi singing a wedding song accompanied only by a drum and a chorus. This style of singing evokes a variety of different traditions. To some, it seems like a staple of old Tehran style urban “folk,” where singers would go on at length with wordplay, rhymes, and funny stories to crowds who would participate in call and response. Yet at the same time, it is also similar to the Azerbaijani style of meyxana, a poetic tradition in which poets rapidly sing couplets, often on the spot. Its improvisatory nature is reminiscent of the tarab style of Arabic singing, whereas the witty character of the poems seems similar to a battle rap between hip-hop MC’s. To draw an exclusive line between one culture and another in this sense is clearly futile and misleading.
The cultures of Azerbaijan, urban Tehran, and what we know today as “Iranian culture” are all amalgamations with overlapping and shared histories. This is not to suggest that they are not distinct in certain ways, but rather to acknowledge that often in Iran and other parts of the world, historic and contemporary lines between cultures cannot be easily separated when people’s histories are so intertwined and a product of a millenia of mixing.
In addition to songs that are explicitly about marriage, the mix also includes classic songs that are almost guaranteed to be heard at almost every wedding in the region they come from. For example, a Georgian rendition of the Caucasus folk song “Shalaxo,” is a staple of any Georgian, Azeri, or Armenian wedding. Similarly, weddings are often the time for raqs-e nobati, or dances that are performed by one or a few dancers at a time for an audience, such as baba karam or lezginka. Tracks like “Baroon Baroon” and “Sia Narma Narma” are taken from wedding recordings that float around Iran and are sold and distributed online to the point that the performer’s identity is often unclear.
While there are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes a wedding in Iran or the surrounding region, at the very least this mix may give a sense of the spirit and rhythm at the heart of such a joyous occasion. Mubarak bad!
1) Harsaniq Haykakan – Kevork Artinian
2) Aroosiye Bandari – Hassan Shamaizadeh
3) Hanaban – Music of Lorestan
4) Baba Karam – Vigen
5) Baba Karam – Armin Nosrati
6) Aroosi – Morteza Ahmadi
7) Shalaxo 2013 – Karen
8) Aman Bu Kizlarin Elinden – Unidentified Azeri Wedding Singer
9) Baroon Baroon – Unidentified Khuzestani Wedding Singer
10) Sia Narma Narma – Unidentified Khuzestani Wedding Singer
11) Aha Bogoo – Zacon
12) Mobarak Baad – Armin Nosrati