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HAARETZ: A Diva from Persia: Rise and Fall of HAYEDEH

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By Noam Ben-Zeev
(This article was originally published in Hebrew in the Israeli daily 'Haaretz'. Noam Ben-Zeev is a music professor at the University of Haifa)

Recently, the documentary  “Hayedeh – Legendary Persian diva,” was released on DVD in Europe. The film was inspired by the occasion ofthe 20th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest modern day Persian singers, Hayedeh 

In 1979, following the success of the Iranian Islamic revolution, women were forbidden from singing in public. Many singers fled. Amongst them was Hayeden.

The revolution found the singer on tour in Europe, “She did not return as she was part of the royal family, and following the revolution,many people in her class were executed,” explains the in exiled director via a telephone interview, now living in the Netherlands.  The pianist Pejman Akbarzadeh was inspired to become a musician while listening to Hayedeh during his childhood.

Hayedeh was born in and studied in Teheran. She began her career as a singer of Persian classical music. Gradually, with the influence of Western music, she began to sing pop music. “In the 50’s the modernization of Iran began”, Akbarzadeh says. “Persians started to show an interest in Western music, which was a sign of  intellectual development and a link to the modern world”.

Archival film footages show the process along which Hayedeh turned from classical music to pop. She is shown singing accompanied by piano, drums, and guitar, with pop rhythms and at the San Remo Festival. The pop music sweeping the country then was the fashion. “The Cabaret grabbed them”, explains an Iranian music critic in the film.

Black market tapes:

After the revolution, the Iranian exile community grew in the West. Hayedeh fame grew in Europe and the United States. “The Persian Maria Callas” they called her and saw her as an equal to popular opera singers and pop stars such as Enrico Caruso and Frank Sinatra. She toured all over the world and in 1985 also came to sing in Israel. In 1985 she sang “Shavua Tov” (Hebrew: 'a good week be upon you all'). “I love you”, she says on film and declares in Hebrew at the Yad Eliyahu stadium. She sings her hits, then faces the audience: “I want to express hope for the future for Iran and Israel.” Her statement is followed by thunderous applause. She adds, “in memory of the fallen Israeli and Iranian soldiers , let’s all be silent for oneminute.” At the end of the concert, the national anthem “Hatikvah” was played on Persian musical instruments. Hayedeh cheers, “Long live Iran, Long live Israel!”


"Hayedeh continued to sing and express the longing of Iranian exiles for their homeland..."
(Noam Ben-Zeev, Haartz Daily, Tel Aviv)

Hayedeh continued to sing for a decade and continued to express the longing of Iranian exiles for their homeland. In Los Angeles, thousands came to hear her famous songs and laments for the exiles, as they did in Germany and at the Royal Albert Hall in London as well.

 Her recordings were smuggled into Iran and traded on the black market But finally, in 1990, after appearing in San Francisco, Hayedeh died of a sudden hear attack at the age of 47. Authenticated rumors talk bout the regular use of cocaine, especially before the tour. “The family is very much hurt by that movie reference,” says Akbarzadeh. “Few could come to terms with what we showed about her cocaine use. In the Persian community it is not common to be so direct: only in West. I have learned here to make direct, sharp, critique, without anything hidden. In Persia it is not customary and is perceived as shocking”.

Related Article:
- "Speaking of Hayedeh and a God Given Voice" (BBC)

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