“Iranian Israeli Singer”, three words that would appear to contain many contradictions appeared on a sign board by the entrance. Liraz meaning “My secret” in Hebrew embodies all of them. An Israeli citizen whose parents had moved to Israel from Tehran in the 70s, spoke about her dual heritage, being conservatively Iranian at home and Israeli at school and having to switch identities. A sentiment that is echoed by many children of immigrants the world over.
This was her debut gig in the UK at the Jazz Café, a venue which has always held a special place in my heart. My return to it after over a year was highly anticipated.
As I walked in DJ Poly-Ritmo was holding down the fort with a blend of world music and I noticed an Iranian crew in full force dancing, clapping and making vocal shrills with a distinct wavey hand movement I was informed that these were the traditional dance moves at Iranian parties.
Someone from the world music magazine Songlines then took the stage with a trophy in hand. He honoured Liraz who had recently been crowned Songlines 2021 Best Artist. Liraz then appeared in a glittery shawl, wearing a tight sexy shiny cheetah print, a revealing cut top held together in the middle by a golden ring. She invoked a thunderous applause from the crowd as if a deity had entered the building.
Liraz opened her performance with a dedication to strong women of Iran and introduced her backing band of Iranian musicians, “This band is three guys and three girls we are equal.” She mentioned that her latest album Zan, meaning woman in Farsi was also written with musicians based in Tehran and was “Written underground and in fear.”
Zan (2021) is her second album and is sung in Farsi (The language of Iran) and this was a new direction from her first album Naz from 2018. Her message was one of love and bridge building between two different worlds, her Middle Eastern dual heritage and The West comprising of LA where she trained as an actress and the UK where she is establishing herself as a musician.
Reflecting on her time in Los Angeles, affectionately dubbed Tehrangeles due to its high Iranian population, Liraz said, “There were loads of Iranians there, like it was like my family, I realised I had to sing in Farsi as it is the voice of muted women in Iran. Women are not allowed to sing post revolution, they should be allowed to do this pure thing.”
The show’s opening track, Lalei (which also closes Zan and is a cover of a traditional Iranian song famously covered by Iranian singer Azita) featured the live drummer performing a modern hip hop beat and this was fused with traditional Iranian sounds from the other musicians. This was accompanied by some sultry dancing from Liraz which was mesmerising and powerful like a goddess. Female empowerment was a theme that ran through the night and Liraz gave a shout out to her mother who was in the audience and was coincidently standing next to me.
I was taken by the droning guitar, which reminded me of Kraut Rock and wondered if we were returning to the 70s? Is this a glimpse of an Iran where the revolution did not take place? I was told by a friend that Liraz was using western instruments to make traditional Iranian sounds and that for this set we should expect classic Iranian pop covers from the 70s as well as Liraz’s own material.
The second track was one of Liraz’s own songs, the popular Bia Bia. During the song she threw off her shawl to an applause over a nice low bassline. Mahtaab was then played next, a cover of an Iranian song. Liraz mentioned that she is speaking in English but that “The Iranian lady inside me is dying to come out!” at this point, a rose was handed to her by a fan who reached down from the balcony.
Next was a cover of Sal Sal by Iranian artist Haydeh, a song written before the revolution, Liraz said “Every year after the revolution we have been crying… they did not know what they were waiting for.” the track (or this rendition of it anyway) was a funky 70s jammer and got a mad ovation from the crowd.
Mastam translating to Drunk out of love was one of Liraz’s own songs and another slice of 70s funk, reminiscent of pre revolution Iranian pop music. The title and lyrics echo the imagery associated with Persian poetry.
Nozi Nozi translating as “Don’t do that” was played next. It is also a term used affectionately by parents to discipline their children. Liraz said she was against the small woman culture of her conservative upbringing. The track was a hard funk stomper.
Iranian dance moves filled the crowd and I saw few hands waving in that distinct manner.
Man Amadeam was a cover of another Iranian song by pop artist Googoosh, it was nice to see the crowd singing along. The keyboardist really shined through on the next track Injan. It was nice and synth poppy and got quite Dubby with the guitars, it also featured Liraz shrilling a great vocal harmony which the keyboardist joined in with.
Tajik, heavily featured the violinist playing some great violin lines. Liraz said, “Life goes on so quick lets have fun while we can.”, which expressed the sentiment of the night and reminded me of the carefree time of 70s pop music and the freedom of experimentation before things became commercial and formulaic in the West and silenced completely in Iran .
Zendegi was Liraz’s own song and had a strong psychedelic vibe, again reminiscent of the time period that Liraz seems to be tapping into. Psychedelic Persian pop compilations have seen a resurgence in recent music compilations.
Zan Bezan which translates to “Sing woman” opens Zan. During the song Liraz elaborated on its meaning, “How crazy is my longing for Iran like. Lover that I will meet some day.” Addressing the audience and expressing the atmosphere of love and unity in the room, Liraz said “There is an Israel Iran conflict but we don’t care there is so much love between us.” The song also references the place of women in the world generally, “How crazy it is to be a woman in this world?”
Hala sent the crowd into frenzy with Liraz masterfully raising her hand and owning the stage as a pop music deity, is she the rebirth of the powerful Iranian pop singers from that bygone era?
A fine place to end the night but there was an encore, Shab Gerye, which Liraz described as a beautiful song from Tehran. I was very taken by the vocal shrill singing. Liraz spoke to the audience “I love you”, as warbling bass contrasted with violin.
This was like an 80s pop ballad think Purple Rain and oozing with synthy-ness.
There was one more encore, Joon Joon which really brought the house down. This was a rush of percussive dance music beats accompanied by an incendiary violin, with Liraz instructing the audience to “Dance like it’s your own private revolution”
The track ended in a frenzied Funk break down with some nice keys at the end
Liraz ended the night with the words “Much love… I love you”, her message and her mission.
Quotations are paraphrased from memory.