The Heavenly Voice of Mohammad Reza Shajarian

I woke up in Tehran on a cold October morning. The city outside of my hotel window looked grey and aloof. I was in a new city. I was alone. Tehran is not a city for the fainthearted. It’s overdeveloped, crowded and downright ugly at times. What I saw out of my window intimidated me. Yet, I made myself leave the hotel and explore. I walked with a purpose as if I knew where to go. I lingered at the curb of a busy road and a taxi stopped in front of me. It was one of those open-door taxis that travel a specific route and pick up passengers until they’re too full. I got in, even though I had no idea where it was going. I had no idea how much I had to pay. When the taxi stopped in the middle of a busy shopping area, another woman got out and I did too. I had no idea where I was. I saw a music store, and I walked in. Before I even had a chance to explain what I wanted—and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what it was, the store clerk handed me a disc of Mohammad Reza Shajarian’s songs. I fell in love.

Eventually I would fall in love with Tehran as well–and then with Yazd, Shiraz and Isfahan. Yet, Tehran, the first Iranian city I’ve explored on my own, evokes the most vivid memories for me. And I always think of the heavenly voice of Mohammad Reza Shajarian as I recall Tehran. To say that he is the most famous singer of Iran is an understatement. He is the voice of Iran. As my friend put it, he is the modern-day Ferdowsi, because just like the author of the Shahnameh epic, he captured the spirit of Iran with his art.

Talking Iran today is always complicated, because some of the discourse is colored by politics, but Iran doesn’t begin and end with the mullahs, sanctions and the economic crisis. To understand Iran, to feel what makes its heart beat, one should open a volume of Hafez, Sa’adi, Rumi or listen to Mohammad Reza Shajarian. Even without understanding Persian, you can feel the passion and emotion in his songs.

The album below, Dar Khiyal (In the Imagination), was released in 1995, and it was the one that the music store owner in Tehran offered me. It features Derakhshani on the tar, Abdolbaqi Afsharnia on the ney ,and Behdad Babaei plays the sitar. The music is composed by Majid Derakhshani. The voice is of Mohammad Reza Shajarian.

Mohammad Reza Shajarian passed away on October 8th of this year aged 80. Yet, I can’t use the past tense to talk about him. His art is so powerful that it truly makes you believe in the permanence and resistance of spirit. I grieve, but once I hear his voice, I feel myself soaring.

Morgh-e Sahar (translated in English as Dawn Bird) is one of the most beloved songs from Mohammad Reza Shajarian’s repertoire.

Nightingale with tied-up wings, rise out of your cage,
Sing the song of humanity’s freedom…
Oh God, oh universe, oh nature,
Turn our dark evening into dawn….
Oh fiery sigh! Start a flame in this cage…

May He Rest In Peace.
محمدرضا شجرين
روحش شاد
روانش شاد

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, Tehran, one of the facets of this city.

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32 Comments

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    Thank you for this moving post. Mohammad Reza Shajarian has a lovely voice, and the audience clearly was moved by the performance of that song. I enjoyed watching the sitar and drums being played. I hope to learn to play the (western) drums before long.

    You were brave to travel alone in Tehran (and other places). I would not have the courage, particularly these days. I had a lovely friend from Tehran in primary school. Her name was Lida, and she told me how babies were made!

    I like the pretty pattern in the top picture.

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline October 23, 2020 at 8:26am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you. I’m glad that you liked it. I had a pleasure to hear Houmayun Shajarian in concert several times. When I was introduced to him by a friend, I told him the story of discovering Tehran through his father’s voice. I still remember the song that the music shop owner played. It was Morgh-e Sahar, from the second video in my post.

      The pattern is from one of the palaces in Tehran. This is from the late 19th century, if I’m not mistaken, and I like that style very much. October 23, 2020 at 8:40am Reply

      • Tourmaline: I’m sure that Houmayun Shajarian was gratified to hear that his father was the conduit through which you discovered Tehran.

        There are some songs that we will just never forget.

        The combination of colours is glorious. If this is an example from a palace, then they must be gorgeous. October 23, 2020 at 8:53am Reply

        • Victoria: I will try to put together more images at some point. October 23, 2020 at 10:19am Reply

          • Tourmaline: 🙂 October 24, 2020 at 12:50am Reply

  • Alison: I had a lovely school friend in the 70s and 80s from Persia, she always called it Persia, she was of the Bahais faith and I went to a Newroz party with her. She was called Shoreh. October 23, 2020 at 9:27am Reply

    • Victoria: I used to visit a Baha’i temple in Chicago. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, but I remember that it had beautiful grounds and many roses. October 23, 2020 at 10:30am Reply

  • Fiona: Dear Victoria,
    Living in the Middle East and with an interest in perfumes, books, cookbooks and cooking, I always find something interesting to read about here, and I’ve followed your blog for years. I love reading about history and culture of the region and particularly enjoyed this article about Mohammed Reza Shajarian. I’ve added some of these wonderful songs to my Silk Road playlist. Thank you so much for introducing me to the music of this gifted artist. His legacy will live on through his music forever. October 23, 2020 at 9:39am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Fiona! I hope that you enjoy Mohammad Reza Shajarian’s music and voice. I was tempted to fill the post with more clips, but I recommend searching for more on YouTube. His repertoire is vast. October 23, 2020 at 10:35am Reply

    • Aida: Lovely Victoria, your article was so beautifully written, I have fallen more in love with our traditional music as I have settled more into my spirituality…they all capture the voice of a heart aching for the Beloved. Shajarian did that so seamlessly and with such heart ❤️.
      And thank you for capturing in words the spirit of Tehran as well. Politics don’t allow words to do that city & country as a whole justice, so thank you 😊,
      Much love
      Aida October 23, 2020 at 10:52am Reply

      • Victoria: You put it so beautifully! I agree with you.
        I don’t know if you speak Persian, but if you do (and for the rest of my readers who do,) I have a recommendation–a wonderful podcast called Koron. It talks about Iranian music, traditional and modern. I’ve learned a lot from it as well as filled up my playlist with many great artists and titles. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I even listened several times to the same episodes. October 23, 2020 at 11:21am Reply

        • Vivienne: I lived in Iran when I was younger. Thank you for this wonderful post. October 31, 2020 at 12:22am Reply

        • Sherry Frantz: Merci, Victoria Jan. I had not heard of this podcast, and I do speak Farsi well. I’ll go looking for it. November 1, 2020 at 5:24am Reply

  • Lema: What an interesting and strangely moving recount. Thank you for that. October 23, 2020 at 10:01am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for reading! October 23, 2020 at 10:35am Reply

  • Lucy: lovely post. i love that way of traveling, taking unplanned time to go where the day takes you. missing doing that even here, now. the details you gave bring us right there. you are brave and so good at languages, that helps, even while Iran cannot be an easy place for a western woman. admiring your creative appetite for experience October 23, 2020 at 10:37am Reply

    • Victoria: Actually, Iran was an easy country to travel, and without any exaggeration, I felt much safer there than I do in some parts of Brussels. It certainly helped that I spoke Persian, but as a foreigner, you’re automatically a guest everywhere, and the kindness and generosity of the people I encountered can’t be described. It has to be experienced. Iran is nothing like what the impression you get from reading about it in the news. October 23, 2020 at 11:09am Reply

      • Patricia Devine: I admire your courage in travelling alone – something I’ve never done. But your experiences reflect those of some of my friends. One was stopped by armed guards in Syria – very apprehensive, she wound down the car window, and found that she and all the occupants were being invited to a family wedding. The tradition of hospitality in that part of the world runs deep. October 24, 2020 at 3:36am Reply

  • Alison: I always link roses with the romantic stories from the Eastern lands. October 23, 2020 at 10:39am Reply

    • Victoria: A beloved flower everywhere it grows. October 23, 2020 at 11:11am Reply

  • Kneale: What a beautiful tribute, Victoria. I have always wanted to visit Iran- a number of my friends growing up in Montreal were Iranian and their families had been forced to leave a country they loved dearly. Thank you for introducing me to Mohammad Reza Shajarian, what a voice. October 23, 2020 at 10:46am Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure to share! He said that he captured people’s longings with his art, and I think that it’s true. October 23, 2020 at 11:12am Reply

  • Aida: Lovely Victoria, yes I do speak Farsi & I’ll definitely check out the podcast you spoke of.
    This is the latest song I’m obsessed with, which also captures the ache for the Beloved. It’s called Coup d’etat, but it’s about the inner revolution that being separated from the Beloved induces…it’s so beautiful, I listen to it maybe 30 times a day, no joke 😍🥰😘
    With love,
    Aida

    https://youtu.be/byv7gIPR-yk October 23, 2020 at 5:00pm Reply

  • Reza: I didn’t realize in what year you traveled to Tehran. October 23, 2020 at 6:42pm Reply

    • Reza: Could you tell me please? October 24, 2020 at 6:56am Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria, for unveiling another corner of the World. Mohammed Reza Shajarian’s stirring voice gets the highest accolade in our local pidgin: Chicken Skin. (An emotional skin prickle aka Goosebumps.) October 23, 2020 at 8:14pm Reply

  • Fazal: Great post. Among things I closely follow is politics and I must admit that sometimes politics lead to biased feelings in me about certain countries. But then I step back and remind myself that if I am experiencing negative attitudes towards certain countries, it is really negative attitudes towards their politicians and not the general populace.

    The fact is that populace in most countries is helpless and despise their rulers probably as much as we do. Even in developed countries where democracy is supposed to be well-nurtured, rulers like Trump and Boris could not have been more inappropriate representatives of the values and principles embraced by the majority of the citizens in their countries. October 23, 2020 at 8:47pm Reply

  • Wara: Dearest Victoria,

    GORBONETO!!! Beautiful homage to Iran, the wonderful Iranians, their music and spirit!!! So sad to find out he returned to the stars, but he will live forever in our hearts!!! October 23, 2020 at 11:33pm Reply

  • Aurora: How wonderful to get the essence of Iran through music. Also, I am very greatful that you made me discover a great artist. October 24, 2020 at 5:53am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Thank you for your very personal and may I say rather emotional post! All readers will feel the importance this country, culture and its artist have for you. Very true and very touching! Merci! October 24, 2020 at 5:03pm Reply

  • MaureenC: Thank you for this I shall look forward to listening and I will definitely check out the podcast you mentioned. I have had many friends, colleagues and acquaintances from Iran over the years and thoroughly enjoyed their company and what I learned from them about their families culture and food. It is so important, particularly at the moment to remember that people are not necessarily represented by their governments. I would be horrified if people thought that the current incumbent in the UK represented anything about me! October 25, 2020 at 6:08am Reply

  • Sherry: Thank you, Victoria for shining light on Shajarian’s music and what a beautiful job you’ve done. His music is worth listening to even if someone doesn’t speak Farsi. The day he died,there were a few thousand people that gathered impromptu at the doors of the hospital in the street. This was an organic impromptu gathering . You may have seen footage of it on YouTube. At some point, someone started singing Morghe Sahar, and then the entire crowd starts to sing, a capella. It’s moving to watch because they were all strangers, yet unified in their grief and they all knew every word to that song. I live in the US, i speak Farsi and my dad and I printed the words to Morghe Sahar, and that night we sang along Shajarian, as we played that beautiful song on youtube. For those who did not know him, he was as big as Shakespeare in England and Pavarotti in Italy.
    Thank you, Victoria. Much love for your beautiful spirit. November 1, 2020 at 5:45am Reply

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