That can only have been Christian music – is that a problem for the religious guards in Iran?

Meftah: The key factor was that Iʹd accompanied a woman singer in the first place and worked on the dance project; dancing is banned in Iran, of course. But I didnʹt know any of that when ten or twelve Basiji surrounded me on the street, hurled insults at me and then locked me in a small room for three days. I felt like a terrorist. When they released me they confiscated my passport. With my lawyerʹs support, I spent three years fighting to get it back, and to leave for France again. I wasnʹt allowed to work during that time. They were really tough years for me.

Back in France, you then worked with Saeid Shanbehzadeh again – very successfully, for a total of 17 years. Why did you part ways in 2014?

Meftah: In the end, it was like in some marriages. After a while youʹre tired and you realise that enough is enough. Our ideas of music ended up very different. Once Iʹd made the separation I noticed how much good it did me. So I donʹt think weʹll share a stage again in future.

There are a few videos on YouTube of you working with the oud player Shahram Gholami. Your part is quite scaled back – how do you feel in that role?

Meftah: I like that too, actually. So Shahram and I recorded a CD together in my Paris studio at the end of 2012. It was a lot of fun – also because our little project was so different to my usual work.

Iranian musician Habib Meftah performs at the Rudolstadt music festival on 5 July 2019 (photo: Bernd G. Schmitz)
Self-taught sound artist: "my music is all hand-made. The foundation of my work is traditional southern Iranian music from Abadan, Bandar Abbas, Bushehr and other places. Iʹd like to put it in contemporary clothing so that people who arenʹt normally interested in traditional sounds listen to it," says Habib Meftah

That collaboration led to problems too…

Meftah: After Shahram returned to Iran to release the album there, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad) informed him it couldnʹt be released if my name was mentioned on the CD. So it seemed like we couldnʹt bring it out. But then Shahram found a solution after all: instead of "Habib Meftah" he had "Dey Zang Roo" printed on the CD. "Deyzangeroo" was the name of my first solo album, from 2005. Since then, the title has become a kind of pseudonym, by which a lot of music fans know me. That seemed not to be the case at the ministry, which did give permission to publish the CD in the end.

What would you call the music youʹre making at the moment? Some people use the term "electrofolk".

Meftah: I donʹt use that name for it. A lot of people would think it meant electronic music. But my music is all hand-made. The foundation of my work is traditional southern Iranian music from Abadan, Bandar Abbas, Bushehr and other places. Iʹd like to put it in contemporary clothing so that people who arenʹt normally interested in traditional sounds listen to it. I simply play folk music with its sound adapted to the present day.

Your new concert programme is called "Shibaali". Whatʹs it all about?

Meftah: Itʹs a kind of musical diary of my life. Iʹve worked with impressions from my childhood and youth and my adulthood. For example, when I came home from school at noon, as a child, my grandmother would often surprise me with a little present, a coin or a sweet. These things were always hidden under a thin white scarf, which older women in southern Iran still use to cover themselves. And "Shibaali", the title of the project, means "underneath the clothing" in our language. The idea is to produce lots of little surprises for the audience as the concert goes on – just like my grandmother did in our garden.

Interview conducted by Bernd G. Schmitz

© Qantara.de 2019

Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire

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