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Iranian pop singer discusses contemporary music

Resident artist Namjoo presents on fellow musician’s artistic integrity, song style

University Artist-in-Residence Mohsen Namjoo has been described as the “Bob Dylan of Iran” by the New York Times — the Iranian pop singer and political advocate presented a lecture Wednesday entitled “Shahram Shabpareh: Honesty and Minor Scale,” one of several musical talks he has hosted this semester as part of a collaboration between the Departments of Music and Middle East studies.

As for the Times’ comparison, Namjoo said he feels it is “correct in terms of lyrical style but inaccurate as a musical matter,” he told the Herald.

Prior to his residency at Brown, Namjoo taught music theory in private lessons and workshops at Stanford University, where he held the Visiting Artist Fellowship, according to the Middle East studies website.

But this is his first time teaching a formal course at a university, Namjoo said.

Namjoo is currently teaching MES1000: “Tradition and Protest: Persian and Iranian Music,” and will offer another course this fall entitled “Iranian Music and Poetry: Content and Form,” according to the Middle East studies department website.

The lecture centered on the music of Iranian pop singer Shahram Shabpareh, who has released 23 albums since 1977.

Namjoo began the lecture by explaining the three minor scales present in Shabpareh’s works, including the traditional Western model alongside the Persian scale, Avaz-e-Dashti, and the Iranian Nava scale. In using these scales, Shabpareh gives his music a blues-like quality, Namjoo said.

In an analysis of 163 of Shabpareh’s songs, Namjoo discovered that 80 percent were composed in a minor scale, with only 18 songs in a major scale, Namjoo said.

The use of minor scales intrigued Namjoo because Shabpareh is known as an “icon of happiness” in Iranian pop culture, he said.

Namjoo discussed Shabpareh’s innovative synthesis of Iranian folk and Western music, especially classic rock, as well as his use of both Western and Persian instruments.

The event was entitled “Honesty and Minor Scale” because Shabpareh’s work is a “symbol of honesty in a time when many pop singers use composers or songwriters,” Namjoo said, noting that Shabpareh wrote and composed over 85 percent of his own songs.

Namjoo highlighted Shabpareh’s work writing for other artists, noting that Shabpareh has built up many other musicians’ careers as well as his own.

Intellectuals “have a judgmental way of thinking when it comes to comparing different types of music,” Namjoo told The Herald. With this lecture, “I wanted to tell them that when you get to questions in music theory, a lot of the pop music you hear has theoretical values and theoretical complexities and depth.”

Shabpareh attended the talk, telling The Herald he thought the event “was a very great program” and calling Namjoo “an extremely learned person.”

The lecture is “starting a new wave of talking about this (genre) of music, taking it more seriously and understanding the depth and different aspects of it,” Shabpareh said, adding that events like this lecture could create an educational conversation in Iran about pop music.

Shabpareh also commented on the importance of music education, as it brings people together “who don’t understand each other’s languages, (but) may understand each other’s music.”

Namjoo will deliver another talk entitled “Western Music vs. Eastern Music: High Pitch vs. Low Pitch” April 9 and  a concert performance, “When you are talking about Iranian Fusion, what are you talking about?” May 10, both in Grant Recital Hall.


The quotations in this article were translated from Farsi through a translator during the event and in a subsequent interview with The Herald. 



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