They are famous singers, but nobody ever recognizes them in the street. In their music videos, you only see their back, their feet, their silhouette outlined behind curtains, or their reflections in a lake; those who show their faces disguise themselves with big sunglasses, heavy face paint, or colorful masks.
They do this not to be mysterious, but because they are women, and for them, singing is forbidden in Iran. Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there were plenty of famous female singers in Iran, such as Googoosh and Haydeh. But with the revolution came a ban on singing for women, except in rare cases where the authorities grant permissions to sing traditional music.
Today, the brave few who dare sing their own songs anyway hide behind names like 3P or Madmazel, and share their music on the Internet. In the past year, they’ve started making lots of music videos, in which they have to find creative ways to keep their identities hidden. Paradoxically, the more famous they become, the more they must protect their identities.
Indeed, if they get caught, they could potentially pay a heavy price: Iran’s criminal code allows for a judge to sentence women to 79 lashes for singing without permission. And if the judge finds that their songs “promote decadence” in some way, they could even wind up in prison. However, to date, no such cases have been reported.
Sherry Bijan was among the first female singers to release music videos online.
“I feel like a criminal in my own country”
3P is a singer who lives in Iran. She is the only singer who agreed to be interviewed out of several contacted by FRANCE 24; others replied that it was too dangerous for them.
I studied art, but I learned to play the guitar and to sing on my own. I was encouraged to make a music video by one of my trusted friends, who is a photographer and a director. He produced my two first videos for the songs “Solitude” and “Our Love.” After the first one was released online, I got so much support from fans that I decided to keep going, despite the risks and hardships.Music video for the song "Tars" by 3P.The cost of producing work, arranging songs and making video clips is quite high. I don’t make any money from my music – in fact I spend a lot of money! Working anonymously, it is very difficult to find trustworthy people to work with and even harder to find financing, since you can’t just go talk to potential investors. Music is my career but if I continue like this, I will end up running into financial problems and have to stop."If I can, I will go abroad where I will be able to show my face and reveal my identity"But the burden is not just financial – I am constantly worried that I may run into problems with the intelligence services. If they find out who I am, I’m afraid they could, for example, bar me from leaving Iran. I feel like a criminal in my own country. If I get the opportunity – and have the means – to leave, I will do so, as I would like to show my face and reveal my identity soon.I think that anonymous music videos like mine and those of other Iranian singers are interesting to people because they are new, but that after a while, it will become boring. But for now, unless the laws in Iran change, we have no other option than to continue working like this.
Madmazel wears sunglasses throughout her music video.
Justina wears heavy facepaint in all her videos.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ershad Alijani.