Photo Cred­it: Yoav Pich­er­ski

“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.


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DJ Isuru is a music journ­al­ist and broad­caster on SOAS Radio. He also runs the Mishti Dance event series fea­tur­ing the best in Asi­an Under­ground, the next party will be on Feb­ru­ary 18th at Rich Mix.


DJ Isuru is a music journalist and broadcaster on SOAS Radio. He also runs the Mishti Dance event series featuring the best in Asian Underground, the next party will be on February 18th at Rich Mix.