These days street musicians are everywhere in cities like Tehran, Shiraz, Tabriz and Isfahan. This is very new for Iranians, and though some don’t know how to react and look away, overall the response is great: people will sit for hours and watch us. Often they’ll ask for our numbers so that they can call us to see when we’ll be performing again.
Of course, there are some musicians who have started playing in the streets to make a bit of money, and others do this because they can’t obtain permits to play in official venues [Editor’s Note: Permits can be hard to obtain
, especially for those who play non-traditional music]. But I and many others are doing it for very different reasons.
Playing in the street gives you a very different feeling from playing in a concert hall. The mood is more casual; you can interact directly with your audience. We often strike up conversations about our music. And people are free to leave whenever they get bored! It’s also an opportunity to familiarize those Iranians who would never think to go to concerts – and there are many of them – with different types of music and instruments.
We do have to worry about the police. They have generally been leaving street musicians alone, but there’s always the risk that they’ll make us stop playing or disperse the crowd if it’s too big. We’ve found they harass you less if you play traditional music, if there are no women in your group, and if no more than 10 or 15 people have gathered to watch. And of course, people must not dance. [Editor’s Note: Unsanctioned dancing is banned