T.DEVELOPED by Mim Rasouli, a musician from near Tehran, is rich in Persian and Western influences. In “Fastalgia”, one of his most famous melodies, Mr. Rasouli mixes songs by Seyyed Javad Zabihi, a muezzin from the time of the Shah; Mohammad Reza Shajarian, one of Iran‘s greatest cultural treasures; Archives, a London-based alt rock band; and Arms and Sleepers, a trip-hop group from Boston. The result is a dreamy, nostalgic track that is supposed to be reminiscent of a time when the Ramadan fast began with Zabihi’s call to prayer and prayer iftar, or quick supper, was accompanied by Shajarian’s thunderous voice.
Zabihi was murdered two years after the 1979 revolution; Before he died last year, Shajarian boycotted state radio to show support for pro-democracy protesters. Listeners can continue to stream their music on Spotify and similar services. However, “Fastalgia” itself is not available. There is also nothing else from Mr Rasouli or Iranian musicians who live and work in Iran.
The reason is simple. Sanctions prevent Western companies from doing business with Iranian companies or individuals. Mr Rasouli (pictured) says he would like to be on Spotify (not officially available even in Iran) but does not put his music online for anything. You can find his songs on his personal website, YouTube, SoundCloud, Telegram, and Navahang, a streaming service for Persian music. “I didn’t choose them,” says Rasouli of this last point of sale. Rather, after Navahang began posting his music on his own, he sent more. He does not receive any payment in exchange.
Navahang, based in Finland, was founded in 2015 by Siavash Danesh, a refugee, with an app developed in India. With around 2 million users, it’s a little outfit that focuses on the Iranian underground scene and artists. The service is free; Registration is not necessary. It carries advertising, but its size and the fact that there are many listeners in unprofitable Iran mean that the revenues are modest.
To survive, Navahang is turning the traditional business model of streaming upside down. “Unlike other services like Spotify, where you get subscriptions and pay for artists,” says Danesh, “we get money from the artists themselves.” Since Iran is not a signatory to various copyright treaties, platforms like Navahang can use some Iranian works without payment. Many musicians, including Mr Rasouli, are delighted with the exposure. Those in the diaspora who would like Navahang to advertise them, for example on the homepage, pay for the privilege. Navahang also produces music for some Persian artists outside of Iran. Mr Danesh estimates that 90% of his income comes from these two sources.
Navahang is a relatively new player in the Persian music streaming scene. The largest and best known service is Radio Javan, based in Washington. DC The app has been downloaded more than 5 million times from the Google Play Store, much more than Navahang’s. It is expensive to run a service for Iranians, confirms Hamed Hashemi, the founder of Radio Javan. Most of the users in Iran are not only, but the lack of copyright protection diminishes in both directions. His company also has a manufacturing line, but it is difficult to pursue claims if his music is forged in Iran. Radio Javan got out following the same strategy as Navahang. “We’re an advertising company,” says Hashemi. “We promote music.”
Think of it as a targeted advertisement. Persian musicians want to reach Persian-speaking listeners to secure record deals and concert bookings in Tehran or elsewhere. The likelihood of being discovered or making big bucks on a mainstream service – Spotify promotes over 1 million artists and pays a fraction of a cent per stream – is slim. This is impossible for musicians in Iran. If you pay to advertise on Navahang or Radio Javan, you will reach the right audience.
The benefits go even further, however. Iranian artists have long been into music from overseas, as Rasouli shows. Free Persian streaming services let the curious in the rest of the world discover the Iranian culture. “As an artist, I like it when my work is seen and heard,” says Rasouli. The rewards, he adds, are spiritual rather than material. ■
This article appeared in the Books & Art section of the print edition under the heading “Stream of Consciousness”.