As colourful a comp as the country’s history and terrain Iran is a complex, wildly varied country. Cross over from northern Iraq through a border post adorned with portraits of religious leaders, and you find yourself up among the little mountain villages of the Kurdish region. Make your way down to the plains, negotiating many more checkpoints on the way, and you’re in the large, modern, busy capital, Tehran. Keep going south and you reach the magnificent mosques of Esfahan. Beyond, there stretches the coastal regions and the arid deserts leading to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s an area with equally varied music, which has continued to flourish despite (and, at times, because of) the Islamic revolution of 1979, when Western pop was initially banned. This wide-ranging guide provides an impressive introduction. From up in the Kurdish region there are the sturdy and stirring Kamkars, famous for their Kurdish and Persian classical styles, played on long-necked lutes, fiddles and dulcimer. Then, from Tehran, there are rock bands that have survived despite official disapproval, which range from the laidback Barad to the more upbeat O-Hum, whose unlikely lyrics cover everything from personal angst to re-workings of ancient Sufi poetry. The Ayatollahs disliked rock because it symbolised the pro-Western era of the Shah, but they were keen to promote Persian culture and classical groups like the Dastan Ensemble, heard here with Kurdish singer Shahram Nazeri. The music of Iran’s substantial Armenian community gets a look in, with duduk player Djivan Gasparyan playing alongside the great Iranian tar player Hossein Alizadeh. The music of black Iranians, descended from African slaves, is also featured. One of the finest tracks here is the soulful ‘Lullaby’, recorded for Andy Kershaw’s show by the Jahlé band from the coastal city of Bandar Abbas. This is another excellent Rough Guide compilation, which comes with useful and entertaining liner notes. And I’d say all that even if it hadn’t been compiled by the Songlines editor, Simon Broughton.
Robin Denselow l (from Songlines # 39)