In Iran, obtaining a permit to hold a concert is no easy feat. But even when musicians do get their hands on this precious document, the concerts can still be forcibly cancelled at the last minute. That’s what recently happened to two bands in the southwestern city of Abadan, after religious hardliners launched a campaign labelling their music as “debauched”.
Two bands, one that plays pop music and the other that plays traditional Iranian music, were scheduled to play at different venues on the same night, October 28. The pop singer Majid Kharrat-has, who is well-known in Iran, and the traditional local group Sayyeh. According to the local press, they had obtained the necessary permits, rented out the venues, and advertised their shows. But on October 28, concertgoers who turned up with tickets in hand, found that the concerts had been cancelled.
For several days before the concerts, religious hardliners, led by Abadan’s Friday Prayers Leader – who is the city’s top cleric – went on a campaign to discredit the musicians. First, text messages were sent around condemning the shows as “unconventional”, and Friday Prayers Leader Ali Ebrahimipour dedicated an entire sermon to denouncing them. Then, the day before the concerts, a group of conservative students and supporters of Ansar-e Hezbollah, a hardline group, gathered in front of the city’s Islamic Culture Ministry office to demand their cancellation. The next day, just hours before the musicians were scheduled to go on stage, several dozen students belonging to the Basij – the national volunteer paramilitary group – held another protest in front of the local governor’s office.
Nasser, 30, lives in Abadan.
This is the first time I have ever heard of a concert being cancelled in Abadan. One of the excuses used by the Friday Prayers Leader to object to these concerts was that un-Islamic and indecent things had happened at previous concerts held in the city, but this is not true. Nobody has heard of any such thing. I myself have gone to concerts and festivals here, which are usually held in the Abadan Free Zone [a part of the city with tax exemptions to encourage business and tourism] and I didn’t see anyone dance, take off their hijabs, or do anything else that could be considered un-Islamic.
It seems that this new Friday Prayers Leader, who was appointed just a few months ago, is trying to make the city much more conservative. If he objects to even traditional music, we imagine he will object to all other types of music, as well. Since he’s arrived, we have also noticed an increase in the activities of the morality police. [Editor’s Note: In Iran, morality police are tasked with cracking down on a wide variety of behaviours considered indecent, from women wearing loose headdresses to playing with squirt guns].