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.


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.