Iran in Beirut: A Cultural Summer Storm
Lebanon will host an Iranian Cultural Week for the first time in collaboration with the Lebanese Ministry of Culture, according to public relations official at the Cultural Chancellery of Iran, Ali Kassir. The chancellery has organized similar events in the past but in cooperation with private parties and cultural organizations. The program poster announcing the Iranian Cultural Week describes it as “the largest Iranian cultural event in Lebanon.”
Even though there have been many Iranian cultural events and presentations in Lebanon on many occasions, they remain largely invisible. It appears as though the Iranian political role overshadows its cultural scene.
But Iranian cultural output compels any observer to stop and reflect, especially that the Iranian “original” appears more liberated than many of its Arab emulators.
In Iran, for example, there is a deeper engagement in the quality of music and its development as opposed to dwelling on the question of what is religiously permitted and forbidden. It is not because the Iranian regime has abandoned the values that guide it but because Iranian artists have taken advantage of the margins and “gains” provided by religious law and safeguarded by legislators.
Lovers of Iranian culture can expect a series of varied activities. There is going to be live music, screenings of films like White Death Beirut’s and One Grain of Sugar and exhibits of paintings and plastic arts, folkloric shows, artisan handicrafts, tourism promotion and the Jewel of the Iranian heritage, the famous Persian carpets.
Iranians can barely talk about their culture and heritage without spreading their carpets before connoisseurs and aficionados. In addition, a seminar will be held about “the spaces of scientific and technical cooperation between Lebanon and Iran.”
The program includes a night of traditional Iranian music with the ensemble Roohafza. This Iranian musical ensemble is considered one of the most prominent local groups that follows a traditional style and its angle is more spiritual than religious.
Roohafza ensemble was created in 1998 by Aliasghar Rahimi (tanbur and music composer) who brought together some of the most prominent tanbur players (the oldest Persian string instrument) in the city of Isfahan. The ensemble includes three other tanbur players, Amirhossein Senemar, Ali Bahrami and Navid Koohi in addition to Alireza Kafi (vocal), Hossein Mortaheb (ney or flute), Shahab Hamidi Manesh (percussion instruments) and Mohammad Afsharpoor (daf or tambourine and tonbak).
Its only recording is titled Sun and Tanbur. Roohafza went on a special tour to promote it in the past two years presenting concerts in Tehran, Turkey and Nepal. The ensemble has a very elegant website that is quite helpful in terms of the information available in English and Farsi, from introducing the ensemble and the instruments to the pictures and musical sampling.
Despite the religious edicts against Western music, the prohibition has not reached the Farsi traditional music inheritance so it has been employed in the service of religion, directly in religious chanting or indirectly like the Sufi chanting of Roohafza.
Iranian Cultural Week runs until July 6 at UNESCO Palace (Beirut), Sunflower Theater (Tayouneh - Beirut), Risalat Theater (al-Ghobairy - Beirut), The Nabih Berri Cultural Center (Saida - South Lebanon).
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.