The traditional instruments of the group were all set up on stage when the show was cancelled at the last minute.
In Iran, obtaining a permit to hold a concert is no easy feat. But even when musicians do get their hands on this precious document, the concerts can still be forcibly cancelled at the last minute. That’s what recently happened to two bands in the southwestern city of Abadan, after religious hardliners launched a campaign labelling their music as “debauched”.
Two bands, one that plays pop music and the other that plays traditional Iranian music, were scheduled to play at different venues on the same night, October 28. The pop singer Majid Kharrat-has, who is well-known in Iran, and the traditional local group Sayyeh. According to the local press, they had obtained the necessary permits, rented out the venues, and advertised their shows. But on October 28, concertgoers who turned up with tickets in hand, found that the concerts had been cancelled.
Protesters in front of the Islamic Culture Ministry's office in Adaban on October 27.
For several days before the concerts, religious hardliners, led by Abadan’s Friday Prayers Leader – who is the city’s top cleric – went on a campaign to discredit the musicians. First, text messages were sent around condemning the shows as “unconventional”, and Friday Prayers Leader Ali Ebrahimipour dedicated an entire sermon to denouncing them. Then, the day before the concerts, a group of conservative students and supporters of Ansar-e Hezbollah, a hardline group, gathered in front of the city’s Islamic Culture Ministry office to demand their cancellation. The next day, just hours before the musicians were scheduled to go on stage, several dozen students belonging to the Basij
– the national volunteer paramilitary group – held another protest in front of the local governor’s office.
After the concerts were cancelled, Abadan residents reported seeing this sign pop up at government offices throughout this city. It is a list of "the disadvantages of music". It lists: "poverty; discord; barbarity; God ignores your prayers; makes God angry; makes angels flee; attracts evil spirits; destroys modesty; causes natural disasters."
Since the concerts’ cancelations, the Islamic Culture Ministry has kept silent about the incident. The city’s Friday Prayers Leader, however, told an Iranian journalist that (contrary to previous reports by journalists) the musicians did not have permits, and that “90 percent of locals were against” the shows taking place. He added, “I’m not against people have fun or against art” but that these musicians “were not trying to get people to have fun, they were trying to incite debauchery and therefore had to be stopped”.