Popular Music and Society in Iran: New Directions

Iranian Studies Program, Yale University

January 26-27, 2018

Luce Hall, MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies

34 Hillhouse Ave, New Haven, CT 06511



The political and sociological study of music in contemporary Iran is a growing field, and this conference is the first of its kind to bring together researchers and academics working on the topic. During a two-day symposium, researchers from the North America region will present on topics that are as varied as the study of Safavid and Qajar musical traditions (16th to 19th centuries) and their direct implications for practices in the Pahlavi period and up to the Islamic Republic, the issue of women musicians following the revolution, emerging trends in musical theater, the politics of impiety in expatriate music productions, and the intersection of religious rituals and pop music. This conference also aims to incorporate perspectives from musicians, recognizing the importance of including their voices in academic research on the subject. As such, there will also be three musician sessions, featuring among them Iran’s first female Hip-Hop artist Salome MC, as well as a special talk session with musician Mohsen Namjoo. All presentations are united in their quest to take music as a serious register for the political and sociological study of contemporary Iran.

Panels Speakers

Paola Cossermelli Messina is an Associate Producer, Host and Editor of the audio journal “Status Hour”, a production of the Arab Studies Institute. She holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. in Media Studies from The New School. Her thesis entitled “Reclaiming the Stage: Oral Histories of Iranian Women Musicians” was awarded the Middle East Studies Association’s Graduate Student Paper Prize in 2016. Her research interests fall in the intersections between music, culture and society, with a focus on how politics and media representations affect the creation and performance of music in Iran and the Middle East. She has taught at Sarah Lawrence College and, prior to pursuing her Master’s degree, worked as a producer and reporter at a radio station in her home country of Brazil. Her written works have been published by Reorient, Mashallah News and O Estado de São Paulo newspaper.

Farzaneh Hemmasi is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at University of Toronto. Her interests concern popular music, celebrity, transnational media publics,  the politics of popular culture, and music in urban environments. Her primary research area is Iranian popular music, transnationality, media, and politics, and her publications cover topics including the postrevolutionary political metaphorization of the Iranian female singing voice; Iranian twentieth century “New Poetry” and popular music; and the Iranian expatriate cultural industries in Southern California. In 2017, she began a collaborative ethnographic project on music scenes and cultural policy in Toronto’s Kensington Market.

Amir Hosein Pourjavady was assistant professor of music at the University of Tehran for eight years (2005-2013). He wrote his dissertation on music of Iran during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and has published extensively on the history, theory and performance practice of music in the Middle East and Central Asia. He served as music editor of the Grand Encyclopedia of Islam and Mahoor Music Quarterly for several years. His publication includes a book, several editions of old Persian treatises on music as well as liner notes and encyclopedia articles.

Pourjavady studied the setar, vocal music and the radif (classical repertoire) of Persian music with Dariush Safvat, Hossein Alizadeh, Dariush Talai and Hatam Asgari for more than ten years. He has recorded the album Six Songs from the Qajar Period and has performed with many of the most influential musicians in Iran, Europe and United States.

Jane Lewisohn is presently Research Associate in the Department of Music, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, as well as ‘Scholar in Residence’ at the Jordan Center for Persian Studies, University of California at Irvine. She lived in Iran from 1973 through 1978 and is a graduate of Pahlavi University, Shiraz. Iran. She is also the Director of the Golha Project, an encyclopedic archive of Persian Music and Literature based on the Golha Radio Programs (Flowers of Persian Song and Music), which is a registered UK public charity: http://www.golha.co.uk, and Director of the Golistan Project for the promotion, preservation and archiving of 20th-century Persian Performance arts and Literature: http://www.golistan.org/, which is a US-registered public charity.

Her past positions include Research Fellow, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter; Director of Friends of Afghanistan, an international charity that set up computer labs in regional high cchools near Kabul, and arranged seminars for Kabul University’s Dari/Persian Literature Department. In the 1980s-1990s, she was an editor for an Iranian publisher: KNP Publications, London, where she was responsible for checking English translations against original Persian texts, manuscript preparation, editing, and index preparation for up to twenty-five published volumes. 

Ann E. Lucas is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Boston College the Department of Music, where she also teaches in the interdepartmental program for Islamic Civilizations and Societies. Prof. Lucas specializes in music and culture in the Middle East:  both historiography of music in the Persian-speaking world and the relationship between music and dance in the Arabic-speaking world. She has received the Academic Council of Learned Societies’ New Faculty Fellowship and served as a guest researcher with Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Her short works include contributions to Journal of Asian Music (University of Texas Press, 2012) Global Muslims in the Age of Steam and Print (University of California Press, 2013) and Theory and Method in Historical Ethnomusicology (Lexington Books, 2014). Her first book, Music of A Thousand YearsA New History of Persian Musical Traditions, will be published with the University of California Press in 2018. She is the founder of the Section for Historical Ethnomusicology within the Society for Ethnomusicology and is currently serving as associate editor for the Middle East Studies Review.
Ida Meftahi is a historian specializing in modern Iran with a focus on the intersections of politics, gender, and performance (in its broader Goffmanian sense). She holds a PhD from the University of Toronto’s Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and has been a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University (2013–14) as well as visiting assistant professor of contemporary Iranian culture and society at the University of Maryland. Her first book, Gender and Dance in Modern Iran: Biopolitics on Stage was released in spring 2016. Meftahi’s scholarship has been published in numerous scholarly journals and volumes including Islam and Popular Arts (2016), Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity (2016), IranNameh (2016), International Journal of Middle East Studies (2016), and the bilingual Clio. Femmes, Genre, Histoire (2017). She is currently working on her second manuscript, a spatial humanities reading of Tehran’s historic Lalehzar district, while simultaneously directing the Lalehzar Digital Project, a component of the Roshan Initiative for Persian Digital Humanities. She is also the faculty advisor for Roshangar: Roshan Undergraduate Journal for Persian Studies
Erum Naqvi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute in New York. She earned a PhD in philosophy from Temple University in 2015 on Iranian classical music and concepts of improvisation. Her current research is based on fieldwork with artists in Tehran, and centers on conceptual issues to do with the performance of Iranian arts, emerging artistic practices, and the cultural dynamics of artistic production in Iran.
Hamidreza Salehyar is a PhD student in Ethnomusicology at the University of Toronto and his doctoral research focuses on Shi’a Muharram rituals in present-day Tehran, Iran. Hamidreza has presented his research at major ethnomusicology conferences in Canada, the US, and the UK. He is the recipient of the 2017 British Forum for Ethnomusicology Student Prize. In addition to his Ethnomusicology MA from the University of Alberta, his academic research also benefits from his expertise in Iranian classical music as a tar player; he holds a BMus in Iranian Instrument Performance from the University of Art in Tehran.

Anthony Shay serves as Professor of Dance and Cultural Studies in the Theatre and Dance Department of Pomona College in Claremont, CA. He took his PhD at UC Riverside in Dance History and Theory. He also holds a MA in Anthropology from CSULA and a MA in Folklore and Mythology from UCLA. He is the author of 6 monographs, the editor and co-editor of four anthologies on dance history and aspects of folk and traditional dance, as well as the author of over fifty scholarly articles and encyclopedia entries. His book, Choreographic Politics: State Folk Dance Companies, Representation and Power was awarded Outstanding Scholarly Publication of the Year (2003) by the Congress on Research in Dance. His latest publication: Igor Moiseyev and the Moiseyev Dance Company: First Dancing Diplomats: Spectacle, Russian Nationalism, and the Cultural Cold War (London: Intellect Books) will appear in 2018.

 He was the co-founder director and choreographer for the AMAN Folk Ensemble, and founding artistic director of the AVAZ International Dance Theatre. He is one of the recipients of the coveted James Irvine Foundation Choreographic Fellows, and numerous fellowships for both his scholarly work and his choreographies.

Nahid Siamdoust is a Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer in Iranian Studies at Yale University’s Council on Middle East Studies at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. Dr. Siamdoust received her doctorate from the University of Oxford, where she graduated in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at St. Antony’s College. Her book, “Soundtrack of the Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran” was published in 2017 by Stanford University Press; it was based on her 2013 dissertation, which won the Middle East Studies Association’s Malcolm H. Kerr award for the best humanities dissertation. It examines music as a potent cultural register that facilitates political expression and communication, while tracing the evolution of cultural and social policy making in the Islamic Republic itself. Drawing on over five years of research in Iran, including during the 2009 protests, the book’s examinations of musicians and their music shed light on issues at the heart of debates in Iran - about its future and identity, changing notions of religious belief, and the quest for political freedom. 
Theresa Steward is a musicologist, pianist, organist, and teacher living in Richmond, VA. Dr. Steward is currently adjunct faculty at the University of Mary Washington, teaching musicology, ethnomusicology, and piano courses. She completed her Doctorate in Musicology at the University of Edinburgh, UK. Her research focuses primarily upon contemporary issues of popular music and youth identity in Iran and the Iranian diaspora.