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Mohsen Namjoo's music embraces the divide between Iran and the West

by Jonathan Shifflett | The Frame

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Mohsen Namjoo plays traditional Persian music on his setar, but combined with rock influences.

In the 1970s, Persian pop music was flourishing. But after Iran's 1979 revolution, everything changed.

The theocratic rule of Ayatollah Khomeini meant that all music with Western influence had to go.

Iranian musician Mohsen Namjoo is bringing back that sound. He grew up in the aftermath of the revolution listening in secret to Western rock music. He mastered traditional Persian music at Tehran University, but all the while he says he sought to find a blend of musical influences that represented his generation. 

When you're doing these things together, it's going to show this paradox. My music becomes a point of paradox, but it's going to represent that I am, as a musician, living in a world of paradoxes. 

Like a lot of Iranian artists and intellectuals, Namjoo was exiled from the country as a result of his art.

He arrived in the U.S. just six years ago, but has already had residencies at Stanford and Brown universities, teaching Persian traditional music. Namjoo is now free to combine traditional Persian music with drums, bass and electric guitar — the influences of his rebellious youth.  

On March 12, UCLA and The Farhang Foundation will host a Nowruz festival to mark the Iranian New Year. As part of the celebration, Namjoo will perform at Royce Hall.

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