Underground Iranian music special on Bare Necessities

October 5th 2016

Image: Mohsen Namjoo 

  • Bare Necessities :: Iranian Special
  • Bare Necessities :: Interview with Eugene Ulman


“Generally, culture in Iran is quite rigid – in terms of the official culture. But it’s such a diverse population – there are so many subcultures and so much stuff going on that we don’t get to hear much about.”

Eugene Ulman is a producer, filmmaker and director of Elegwa Arts: a production company dedicated to documenting new arts and culture from urban Africa. He joined Sam Z on Bare Necessities for an Iranian music special, uncovering the underground of Iran’s thriving music scene.

Ulman’s interest in Iranian music began a few years ago when he was asked to film a performance by Jalal Zolfonun, a virtuoso Setar player. “I went to film this gig, and I’d never heard anything like this before,” he explains. “The whole aesthetic of it amazed me. It didn’t sound like anything specific that I could relate it to… I had no connection with any of this, but something about it – the intensity of it, the complexity of it – really drew me.” His passion has led him to dig deeper into the story of modern Iranian music. The songs and insights he shares here are not easily accessed by the western world.

The music of Iran draws on a complex range of sounds. Ulman’s selections drift from traditional ceremonial music to more modern pop and Afro-Iranian party music. He explains that while Iranian music isn’t exclusively religious, it is very spiritual, extending to the broader corners of Iranian culture.

Iran’s rigid censorship laws play a significant role in who can access music, and where. It is customary for people to dress conservatively in public, and for women to cover their hair. Free expression of creativity is restricted in many areas of public life. Music is therefore more freely expressed in a private environment, which leads to a class divide.

“Some of it is very class related. If you are an upper class Iranian and you live in a big house in the suburbs, you have many more options. You have access to satellite television, you can travel and bring stuff back,” Ulman explains.

“What tends to happen is people will go to private house – to a party – and they’ll change into other clothes, and they’ll listen to music and dance and do what they want to do. And it happens in a closed environment. It’s a private setting, so they can do that.

The reason I say that it’s connected to class is because if you’re coming from a poorer neighbourhood, where you don’t have that privacy – where it’s much more high density and everyone can see what you’re doing – you don’t have those same options.”

A lot of Iranian pop music is sold in Iran, although not officially. To a certain extent, Iranian musicians have to move overseas to flourish – producing and performing their music for wider audiences in order to it to travel back home.

In Ulman’s eyes: “What is imposed on the people of Iran today, the artificial culture … is going against their tradition of diversity, pluralism, music, art and the complexity of their culture.”

Check out all the tracks Eugene played and listen back to his interview with Sam Z above.



Faramarz – Kereshmeh
Soli – Negar
Googosh – Talagh
Farman Fathalian – Mast O Kharab
Sima Bina – Sabzeh Gol Yar
Kamkar Ensembe – Sorrowful & Restless Heart
Lian Ensemble – Zelzeleh
Lian Ensemble – Pegah
Jalal Zolfonun & Soheil Zolfonun – Baluch
Davod Azad – Sanam
Keyvan Alimohammadi – Darya, darya (Bandari)
Alireza Golpira – Live at Malmo
Mohsen Namjoo – Darda
Mohsen Namjoo – Hammash
Porya Hatami – Transition
Mohammad Reza Mortazavi – Show Off
Mohammad Ghavi-Helm – Trasnif-E Bikhod Shodeh
Farman Fathalian – Abbar Heydar
Azam Ali – Neni Desem
Noosh Afarin – Cole Aftab Gardoon
Zia – Helelyos


Bare Necessities is a sub-bass and frantic percussion show, bringing you all the street party vibes from across the globe. Here Klue, Sam Z, Ribongia, VULI and Moody on FBi Click. 



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