DUBAI – Mohammad Reza Shajarian, who revived Iranian classical music and became a symbol for the opposition after the 2009 wave of unrest, has died in a Tehran hospital at the age of 80, state television said on Thursday.
Fans gathered outside the hospital in the capital Tehran where Shajarian died following a long battle with cancer.
A classical Iranian composer and singer, Shajarian tried to stay out of politics even though he initially sang in support of the movement that toppled the country’s last monarch in 1979 and ushered in the Islamic Republic.
But in 2009, when the government cracked down violently on protests against the disputed election that gave a second term to hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Shajarian demanded that state media refrain from playing his music.
In September that year, he called on authorities to lay down their guns and talk and listen to the protesters.
The clerical leadership retaliated by banning him from holding concerts and releasing albums.
But this appeared to only increase his appeal. Videos on social media showed fans gathering at night outside his hospital this week to sing one of his most popular songs.
Arts and literature hold a special place in Iran, where poetry is read at family gatherings and guests break out in songs of their favourite composers whose music often derives from medieval and mystic poetry.
Traditional Persian music dating to the 7th century was overtaken by pop music from the 1960s. But after the 1979 Islamic Revolution pop tunes were banned with only Persian and Western classical music allowed.
“Shajarian was a member of a cadre of young musicians who in the late 1970s revolutionised Persian classical music by transforming it into an art that spoke directly to the socio-political issues of the time,” said Nahid Siamdoust, author of “Soundtrack of the Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran.”
“These musicians…created some of the most memorable songs of the revolution,” she added. But the revolution was not kind to most music. “Even musicians like Shajarian found their artistic freedom curtailed,” said Siamdoust.
Shajarian is survived by his wife, Katayoun, as well as three daughters and two sons.