Various Artists: Music from the Motion Picture No One Knows About Persian Cats

persiancatsMusic From the Motion Picture “No One Knows About Persian Cats”
Bahman Ghobadi’s 2009 Iranian film “No One Knows About Persian Cats” garnered him several film awards, including the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival where it debuted. The film follows two young musicians as they are released from an Iranian prison. Upon meeting an underground music producer, and general man-in-the-know, they set about touring Tehran for all the hot indie music spots. The ultimate goal being to form a band and getting out of Iran. Brought to light are the many legal and cultural struggles that not only musicians, but the youth in general, have to deal with.
What strikes me about the whole issue with Iran being portrayed as an enemy of the United States is how fabricated the whole thing is. Your average American knows so little about Iran. I’ll be willing to bet our leaders don’t know much either. One thing is certain, the people of Iran know a great deal about us.
The photos on the soundtrack portray youth that look little like American rockers. You have t-shirts and jeans, one guy even wearing a long sleeve shirt under his collared t. Throw in some bushy hair, one fellow with a knit cap, and those quirky sunglasses and you have a watered down version of what you’d expect to find in the States. The most striking difference is the one female.
Her black blouse with white polka dots isn’t anything you’d see Hayley Williams wear. And the scarf wrapped around most of her head, covering all but her face and the front half of her hair are undoubtedly necessary to keep her with the laws of Iran. Again, not something we’re used to in the States. In fact, the reason these kids stand out has more to do with the plainness of their look. No crazy haircuts or even dye. No outrageous piercings, no visible tattoos. They look more like what I dressed like and not the rockers when I went to high school. And yet, this is their equivalent of the punk movement with its counter-cultural look.
Four tracks are by Take it Easy Hospital which is a band started by the stars of the movie, Ashkan Kooshanejad and Negar Shaghaghi. Based out of London, the band has a poppy feel to them. They like to use electronic keys to accompany the guitars and drums. A perfect example of Indie rock coming from Iran.
Ashkan offers two more tracks to the soundtrack as Ash Koosha. “Chasing the Sounds”  brings to mind Jack Johnson with its acoustic guitar and even the way Ash plays with the syllables, picking up speed here and there. Skipping through the song at opportune times. “They Sing” shows off more of his production talent as the guitar is accompanied by violins to add a nice ting to an album that shows the variedness of Iranian indie music.
Hichkas is one of the prominent Iranian rappers. Due to Iran’s policy of outlawing much of Western music, he’s never been granted permission to release a cd. Yet, he goes on producing. While he started rapping in English, he now performs in Persian. With piano and violin samplings, “Ekhtelaf” is right in touch with our own indie rappers. Nothing overdone, more of the type of music that Talib Kweli is prone to rap over.
Then there’s Rana Fahran, who moved to New York and is currently studying in London. She is a jazz singer who loves to take classical Persian poetry and mix it with jazz and blues. “Mast-e Esgh (Drunk with Love)” has a smooth and silky flow to it. She reminds me of Nina Simone singing “Feeling Good”.
The Yellow Dogs instantly flashed a picture of Hot Hot Heat in my mind. They have a very similar sound right down to the way the singer croons. Its faster paced, more sloppy sounding in terms of the guitars which aren’t as toned down as other acts.
Overall, the soundtrack does a fantastic job of introducing the listener to indie acts out of Iran. That’s perhaps the biggest disappointment of the album. Not the music itself, but the fact that such artists aren’t permitted to thrive. This music doesn’t sound anything like the loud punk the Sex Pistols brought. It certainly doesn’t resemble Grunge, Heavy Metal, Scream Core, any of the counter-cultural, revolution fueling sounds that Rock was originally, and keeps being re-introduced as. No one is screaming bloody murder against the government. No one is preaching sex, drugs, and rock and roll. These are just talented, young musicians trying to blossom and grow. So, why silence them?
Perhaps what we should learn from the movie, and even the soundtrack, is that Iran is a country run by people who know change is inevitable, but will do anything to slow it down. And by threatening, or portraying a possible threat, with nuclear power they have a huge stick to keep the Americans away. Let’s face it, our country is free but it comes with a price. Morality disappears when people’s vices are permitted to blossom and grow. Its a scary thought, and when people, even a government, are scared they react in extremes.
As such, the indie acts who want some more freedom have to either leave for greener pastures or stay and fight the silence. I don’t doubt that Hichkas has made some enemies in his State. But he’s exactly the type of guy needed to fight oppression. Hopefully one day he’ll be able to produce solid Iranian rap with permission. Still, how can we really call Iran an enemy of America if their people want to indulge in the creation of rock, rap, jazz. These are all American genres of music. If we influence them culturally so, why can’t we all just get along?
Rating: 8.3/10
MP3: Rana Fahran “Mast-e Esgh (Drunk with Love)”
Buy: iTunes