All photos and videos courtesy of Abjeez
Melody (M): Of course I remember that. It was during our U.S. tour back in December 2010.
S: By the way is Melody your real first name? I know a drummer in Williamsburg whose name is Music.Tell me about your background? (When did you and your sister Safoura leave Iran? When was the last time you visited Iran? Since when have you been living in the US?)
M: Yes, Melody is my real (and only) name, which I believe was chosen by my mom when she first heard that I was going to be a girl. Both of my parents came from music loving families and we had musicians in both sides of the family. So, as a kid I was raised in a home where music was highly appreciated and my dad used to collect different musical instruments and listen and sing to all kinds of western music of his time. My family immigrated to Sweden in 1987 (during the Iran/Iraq war) and although I left Sweden many times (for work and study in other countries), but that is still my second home and I still have the rest of my family there. My sister Safoura and I used to go to Iran to visit friends and family from 1993- 2003 but after the formation of the band we decided not to go back for safety reasons. I moved to the United States in 2004.
S: What has changed since that interview in both of your personal lives and in Abjeez music?
M: Many things have changed but mostly in our private lives. As you know we are a large band, and each and every one of us has much on our plates beside our musical project. For instance I returned to my work as a TV producer for Voice of America last year, which I’m very grateful for. Safoura has begun studying sound design at the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts, which she’s truly enjoying.
One of the greatest things that have happened to us is that our beloved drummer Robin Cochrane, who had long suffered from a painful hereditary disease, underwent a serious kidney surgery and came out of it successfully, which is amazing! I’m so proud of him for being such a champ and I become filled with joy when I see him back behind the drum set again.
Another positive thing that happened last year was an article published about us on New York Times. And for a band that is not signed with any label or doesn’t have any musical manager or PR person, it feels great to have reached to such platform.
We have made two new music videos Shahamat and Parcham with help of some amazing friends/artists, which we’re really proud of.
S: Congrats to the new video! Let’s talk about your new video called Parcham. What does Parcham mean?
M: Parcham means “flag” in Farsi.
S: What does it speak for? What is this song about?
M: We wrote the song right after the Iranian presidential election, in 2009, which sparked allegations of massive fraud and a protest movement (the so called Green Movement) that was subsequently crushed by the government.
While Iranians outside the country came out to express solidarity with protesters inside Iran, different crowds of people with various political views got into serious disagreements over the emblem in the middle of the Iranian flag. Sometimes the quarrels got to a point where they forgot the main reason for their gathering. This song refers to those people and it’s inviting all Iranians to tolerance, peace and unity regardless of their political and ideological views.
S: Who are the actors in the video who acted really well. Especially the lady who was choking and the lady in the “chador.”
M: The actors are mostly good friends and a couple of aspiring actresses (who are now good friends J). As a matter of fact the entire project was a labor of love. From the time we came up with the idea of the video until the filming was completed it took us less than 24 hours. Everything came together so smoothly that at the end of the day, it felt as if the project was meant to be!
Some of the actors and actresses didn’t want their names to be published because they don’t want to risk their family in Iran being harassed by the agents of the Iranian regime.
After all, as absurd as it might sound, what we have done with this video is considered illegal and can be seen as (an act against the national security) in Iran. Singing and performing for women is one legal issue, but the other “problem” from the Iranian government’s standpoint is that we are singing in support of a massive peace movement that the Iranian government called “a conspiracy against the state and the Islamic regime.”
But of those names that I can mention, I would like to name Umama Hamido (New York based actress), Sanam Sunny Erfani (New York based actress and performer), Ava Ansari (freelance artist and curator), Kaveh Ehsani and you of course: Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi (musician and the chief editor of DooBeeDooBeeDoo.).
S: Thanks for inviting me to participate in it. Why did you invite me?
M: At the time that we came up with the idea of this video (only 10- 12 hours before the actual shoot) realizing it seemed a bit surreal. To be able to gather a bunch of Iranian people with different backgrounds (who would each characterize a part of the Iranian society) was one thing. But then finding people who would be willing to participate in the video was another thing. I knew we had absolutely no time to waste. So I went through my phonebook and contacted each person that I thought would be interested. Those who had time to join us in such a short notice and were enough open-minded or unafraid I would say, to take risks, where the ones who responded fast and they came along like a wind in the sails. You were one of them. When I came across your name in my phonebook I remembered that you were a like minded musician, so I invited you.
S: Why is Parcham a reggae song? I thought it’s a new song but you already played it in 2010, correct?
M: Yes, we wrote the song after the 2009 elections but didn’t have the time to make a video for it back then. It’s a reggae song because first and foremost we love reggae, and secondly most of our songs that has a political undertone are reggae songs.
When Safoura came to visit me in New York a few months ago, we were encouraged by our dear friend Kamran Taherimohgaddam to make a video together. Kamran had long wanted to make a video for us and we all knew that we would to do it someday, but the distance between us had delayed the collaboration. So we brain-stormed, came up with this idea, Safoura and I wrote the story boarded and directed the team, Kamran and another friend (who’s doesn’t want his name to be mentioned) shot the parts that are filmed inside the house. Our substitute drummer Erik Edlund filmed the performance parts in Stockholm and finally Kamran impressed us all with his fabulous editing skills.
S: I was surprised to hear that the Farsi lyrics could groove so well to the reggae rhythm? How come?
M: I honestly believe that anything that is coming from one’s heart “grooves well” and “touches people’s heart”, no matter in what language or type of music it is.
S: Tell me about your band? Are all members beside you and your sister also Iranians?
Robin Chochrane on drums is Swedish-Scottish,
Erland Hofgaard on bass is Swedish-Norwegian,
Johan Moberg on guitar is Swedish.
Nicolas Lazo on synthesizer/percussion and saxophone (among other instruments) is from Chile.
Sufi Safavi, our sound engineer, is our brother who’s also from Iran.
S: To whom are you reaching out with this video?
M: We’re reaching out to everybody who loves music (both Iranians and non Iranians). However most of our fans are Iranians because we sing mostly in Farsi and many of the topics that we touch in our songs are about the Iranian society. Our main goal with this band was to become an alternative band for the Iranian youth inside Iran who didn’t have easy access to different types of music. When we started writing songs (back in late 1990’s) Internet wasn’t as accessible for all people as it is today. Many people inside Iran weren’t familiar with different kinds of music styles due to the bans imposed by the government. We wanted to be an osmium of hope for musicians and music lovers in Iran. We also wanted to be a little voice for the parts of the society who were discriminated against, especially for the women. On the other hand there were lots of Iranians outside the country who were suffering from the impacts of negative propaganda against Iran in the western media. We wanted to remove the stereotyping and prejudice against our people. The aftermath of 2009 elections and the massive popular uprising made us more determined to continue on this path.
S: Let’ speak about another “reggae” video DemoKracy you made in 2011, correct?
M: No, we made it sometime in 2007 if I’m not mistaking. It’s been a while since we released the video so I don’t remember the details. However I remember that I wrote the song the same day that George W. Bush became reelected as president for a second term in the office.
S: Because of this song or video you were fired from your job at that time. What’s the difference of DemoKracy and Parcham? Is Parcham a follow-up? Are you afraid to lose your job again?
M: I guess the difference is that at the time DemoKracy was released I was living and working in the United States. And I’m pretty sure that if I would live and work in Iran today, I would be fired from my job because of Parcham. It’s that simple! In my opinion the government of the United States at that time resembled the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I was unlawfully fired for engaging in protected private speech (it was an anti-war song) and we were showing the damages of war on both sides of the coin.
Yes, you could say Parcham is a follow-up to DemoKracy in the sense that the core message of both songs (as well as the rest of our politically driven songs) surrounds topics, such as freedom, democracy and human rights. And they’re both reggae songs.
With regards to your question about fear of losing my job, I would say I’m never afraid of losing a job for speaking up for what I truly believe in. I can’t say that I’m a major risk taker in life, but when it comes to standing up for justice and equality, I am not afraid of anything or anybody, but my own conscience.
S: All this asked and said, is Abjeez a pop band with a political message or two sisters who are activists and use music to speak out their messages? Would you call yourself music activists?
Of course we have always stressed that we don’t want to be stapled as a “political” band in the sense that we don’t support any specific political group or party. However human rights is an important issue in today’s politics (specially in relation to Iran and Middle East issues), so in a way you could say that politics and human rights go hand in hand. In Abjeez we all come from different cultural and political backgrounds and have different views of how things should be. But one thing that we all have in common is the love and trust for humanity and that’s what resonates through of our music.
S: Can you go back to Iran?
M: No, unfortunately not. Right now it’s not such a good idea for us to go back.
S: Is it a coincidence that the release of Parcham was a day before the presidential election in Iran?
M: Both yes and no! It was a coincidence that the song was videotaped and ready for publish right before the elections. However, we didn’t really have a specific release date on our minds. As a matter of fact, we would have bought some extra time to work on minor details on sound and color correction if we didn’t feel the pressure. The pressure came when we saw the notably huge disagreement between the supporters of the elections and the advocates of the boycott of it. We decided to upload the video on YouTube before the results of the elections came out, so that nobody would get the false impression that we are supporting the newly elected president (whoever it would be).
S: How do you feel about the near future of our country?
Of course the first reaction is a sight of relief, but then they should be prepared for what happens after the “therapy.” It’s important to be realistic and comprehend the possibilities, limitation and availability of recourse. There’s always a risk for a relapse and one should know that they are a part of a long-term process.
With regards to Iran, the result of the elections showed that there’s still a sense of unity and a hope for change among the people, which of course gives me a small sight of relief… However, with the tremendous weakening effect of the sanctions on the economy and everyday life of the Iranian people, they’re not standing where they stood four years ago, and the same goes with the position of the regime. Outside influences, such as Israel and the U.S. policies towards Iran, will also have a huge impact in Iran’s future. So there are so many pieces in “this game” that has to be played correctly before we see significant changes. Besides, one cannot ignore the fact that the healing process of a country that has been suffocated by a despotic regime for over 30 years requires time.
S: I believe that with the Iranian Green Movement in 2009 a revolution has started. It was the beginning of an ending of the present regime. Do you agree with me?
M: I don’t really know exactly when was “the beginning of the end” for this regime? The beginning could also be considered the time of the Iranian student riots of July 1999. But I totally agree with you that the establishment of the Islamic republic of Iran is not going to last for long in its current form.
S: Can you explain me why the opposition in Iran can’t unite as you show it in your video?
M: You ask too many complicated questions man! I’m just a songwriter (laugh).
Well, I’m not an expert on these issues but personally I think it’s because most of the Iranians who live outside the country have not left Iran by free will. They have all been forced in one-way or another to leave everything behind and start from scratch. The process of immigration itself is a pretty difficult and sometimes painful experience. These people have left Iran in different time periods, which also play a significant roll on their impression of Iran. Most of the people living in diaspora get gradually disconnected with their home country. All that they remember from “the motherland” is either from the time in which they lived here or glorified stories that they’ve heard from their parents. What they don’t realize is that the country is made by a living and moving society. Its people, the culture and the social/political standards have also changed with time. So they have a slightly different conception of what is really going on in Iran. At the same time they are all hurt for various reasons that forced them out of the country, and as you know, we human beings usually tend to blame others for our problems and suffering.
Another important factor is the factor of distrust and fear. The Iranian regimes (of all times in my opinion) have more or less managed to plant the seeds of fear in people’s minds. So Iranian’s are generally afraid of getting to close to other Iranians. Or at least they approach each other with a feeling of suspicion and doubt. So these are all the roots for the lack of tolerance and understanding among the people, which subsequently makes the formation of strong and organized opposition difficult.
S: Instead of speaking about human rights, democracy for Iran, freedom of speech, etc.isn’t it better to start a conversation among all Iranians who oppose the regime of what kind of constitution they want?
M: I think the Iranian people need to go through a massive healing process together before they can even start talking about issues such as the constitution.
S: Do you think Iran is able to make a nuclear bomb?
M: This question is beyond the scope of my knowledge, so I prefer not to answer.
S: Even if Iran can make it I’m more worried about Iran’s ability to maintain the nuclear plants. Like in Japan we have earthquakes in Iran. We could have a “Fukushima disaster” very easily. Do you agree?
M: As long as the nuclear weapons exist, nobody in the entire world is safe. So I don’t think that any country should be allowed to have it.
M: I think you’re right. As far as I know there are no other similar bands and thank you for your kind words.
S: Melody jan, “Khasteh nabashi”! How do you translate it into English?
M: Thank you! “Hope you’re not tired” 😉
S: Thank you very much for taking your time to answer all my questions. I’m very sure that our readers got a better picture of us Iranians and our country. And I wish you guys the best! DooBeeDoo loves young people like you. Please keep going in what you believe and let music be a positive force in people’s lives.Would you like to add something?
M: I also want thank you dear Sohrab for this inclusive interview. I too hope that these words can draw more attention towards the situation of the Iranian people. I wish for Americans and other non-Iranians to get a better insight about Iran in these sensitive times. As we all know information is power and the more we know about the situation of the Iranian people, the more emotional and mental support will be send their way which in return will provide them more power to overcome the dictatorship in their own peaceful way. Just the way apartheid was vanished in South Africa.