Iran's rebel poet shares his music with Australia

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He's been compared to Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan; lover of classical Persian poetry Mohsen Namjoo is one of Iran's most controversial musicians.

He's been compared to Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan, and while he might not look it, Mohsen Namjoo is one of Iran's most controversial musicians.

As a young boy he began learning classical Persian music. Later, while studing theatre and music at the University of Tehran he discovered Western blues artists. His first exposure to this music was The Doors' Break On Through.

"After listening to Jim Morrison I wanted to find the roots of this music. Then I discovered the maestros of blues - BB King... Muddy Waters...."

"The similarity was not just only musically. It was in the style of living, the style of thinking. That's why I went to that kind of music."

Playing a Persian- style lute, Namjoo now blends the two styles together with traditional Persian poetry, like the 13th Century poet Rumi or Hafiz from the 14th century, along with modern day lyrics.

His style is to link these themes from traditional texts to issues affecting contemporary Iran.

"Before knowing something about Western music, I was trying to just base the lyrics on old Persian poets like Hafiz, Rumi. They were living 700 years ago, 800 years ago," he said.

"When your approach is formalistic, you only think about reading, not concepts. Conceptually, most of these don't work for the modern age. That's why I started to switch their concepts to our age."

Yet being a musician in Iran is not easy; part of the reason he is based in the U.S.

While restrictions have been eased since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, artists are still required to submit their songs to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance for approval.

In 2009, he was touring through Europe when an Iranian court sentenced him in absentia to five years in prison for citing verses of the Koran with music, which is forbidden under Islamic law. Despite giving a formal apology, he hasn't been able to return since.

"At the first moment, I thought, I'm going to miss my mother, my family, my friends and at last my country."

"There's a big sadness about forgetting about the things you cannot forget, like family, friends. Like my mum and she is really sick now."

Because of this, his fans in Iran have relied on underground recordings and online videos to hear him perform.

He says even if the sentence gets dropped, he has no plans to go back and live in Iran.

"I am feeling that any land that you can feel comfortable and relax and do music, which is your main love through your living, that is going to be your country. Right now, New York, gives me this kind of living and I feel comfortable there," he said.

"I definitely would go back, but not for working as musician. You have to do the rules they announce you and have to go the way
they tell you. It needs much longer than this time for (Iran) to be an absolute free country", Mohsen says.

"You can go back to Iran and be free, but not feel free."

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Source SBS

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