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Iran still gaga over pop diva Googoosh

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Cultural thaw

Godmother of pop

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TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Word that Iran's pop diva Googoosh will break 21 years of silence to perform abroad this month has electrified her legions of home-grown fans, many too young to know anything but her ubiquitous boot-leg recordings.


For two decades the former pop sensation has hovered -- out of sight but not out of mind -- over the cultural landscape of urban Iran.

Despite an official ban imposed after the 1979 Revolution on female solo singers, her tapes blare from cars and taxis. Certain Tehran kiosks do a discreet business in illicit sales.

Many eagerly await the first smuggled videos of her landmark concert, set for July 29 in Toronto. Twenty-one years on, Iran is still gaga over Googoosh.

"That will be the No. 1 best-seller this summer," says one black market video dealer. "I've already got customers lining up."

It is not hard to see the appeal of Googoosh amid the enforced austerity of Islamic Iran that camouflages what is in many ways a joyous and lyrical culture.

"Her songs are fun. She sings of love," explains Maryam, a teenage music fan too young to remember the revolution, let alone Googoosh in her heyday.

Cultural thaw

Pre-revolutionary songs and nationalist anthems have received a boost from the cultural thaw ushered in by the landslide victory of President Mohammad Khatami in 1997.

In many ways, that election represented the triumph of educated, urban Iranians. High on their list of demands was cultural freedom and personal liberty, reflected in an easing of the dress code and less rigidity in popular entertainment.

One recent evening, dozens of middle class Iranian families packed a Tehran restaurant to clap and sing along with illicit songs, dressed up as sanctioned traditional music.

Cultural regulations require that such establishments be licensed to offer traditional entertainment, rules often backed up by strict enforcement.

But there were few indications that the management or the audience were prepared to play by the rules. Well-known songs first performed by Googoosh or Marziyeh, who later joined the armed Iranian opposition, dotted the programme.

In the only visible concession to official mores, waiters rushed over to one table to intercept a young girl swaying to the music, her arms gracefully held above her head. Dancing remains off-limits.

Godmother of pop

Now age 50, Googoosh once infused pre-revolutionary Iran with some of the glamour and showbiz style of the West. Her hairstyles and choice of clothes set the tone for the fashionable, while her every move was chronicled by the press.

With the overthrow of the shah in 1979, traditionalist clerics sought to outlaw music, along with such traditional pastimes as chess, as un-Islamic.

But Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution, approved only a limited ban, outlawing solo female singing as too provocative.

The changes ushered in by clerical rule put an immediate end to the careers of Googoosh and countless other pop stars and movie idols. Unlike many of her colleagues, however, Googoosh chose not to flee abroad.

Instead, she drifted into Garbo-like oblivion inside her dark veil, enhancing her mystique along the way. She kept to a small circle of friends and rarely left her flat.

As a result, news that Iranian authorities had given her a passport ahead of a planned concert tour in Canada was greeted with euphoria -- as much at home as among the millions of Iran expatriates.

"This is not a dream. This is not a rumor," proclaimed The Iranian, one of the top Internet sites for Iranians worldwide, as it broke the news of her up-coming tour.

Organizers say the concerts kick off in Toronto on July 29, followed by an appearance in Vancouver on August 5. Twelve performances in the United States begin on August 19.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Persian pop stars listening for more music
May 19, 1999

Iran Media: Googoosh

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