To coincide with our feature on Iran's music scene in Issue 16 of the mag, we got in touch with musician Ramin Sadighi who set up Hermes Records, one of Iran's few independent record labels, in late 1999, to get his thoughts on the situation for an online exclusive.
LWLies: What was your inspiration to set up a record label? Sadighi: In the mid '90s I worked as an advisor to a cultural institute in Iran called Book City. One of my ideas was to start importing music from other labels outside Iran, mostly in Europe, such as ECM, Real World... Most of the inspiration for this type of work comes from our own region. When I heard Peter Gabriel's Passion – the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's film – my thoughts became more bold: there are so many inspirational sources inside Iran, it's strange that nobody took the risk in the experimental side of Persian music.
LWLies: How would you describe the label's sound? Sadighi: I'd rather say what Hermes is not doing: I know that I'm not in the pop music field or strict Persian classical music, but any other phonographic production is welcome here at Hermes. If you search through our catalogue you'll find a diversity of different genres from Western classical, like Persian Trilogy, an orchestral piece based on some ancient Persian tales and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, to contemporary classical music, with fusion, crossover and experiments on Persian folk in between.
LWLies: Are there many other independent labels in Iran? Sadighi: There are not so many music labels at all; now I would count less than 20 active labels. Most of them are independent but they are mostly in pop music or Persian classical.
LWLies: How affected are you by censorship, Iran's ‘red lines'? Sadighi: If you want to release a piece of music as an album or put it on stage as a concert you have to get permission from the Ministry of Culture; you have to present your work in advance and the council checks your work against the red lines. In your country you can criticise everything but here there are some restrictions, mostly focused on politics and religion. In terms of the structure of the music itself, there's also a red line, since the revolution, and that is for solo female vocalists. We don't practise self-censorship but no label takes the risk to produce such a piece of music and then send it to the Ministry and get a no from them.
LWLies: What do you make of the West's perception of the Iranian music scene? Sadighi: There's a sort of misunderstanding about the music situation here: it seems that people describe everything as black or white but actually it's a grey-scale music scene here. It's not that we just have state-approved music or banned music, in between there are many things happening – we have a very active music scene here, we are not passive. Even when some musicians or movements in Persian music get praised outside Iran, it seems that the rest get ignored and that's not true or fair.
LWLies: For some of the label's album art you use images by Abbas Kiarostami. How did that come about? Sadighi: There's a family connection but he's a music fan; from the early beginnings he's supported me, and he always insisted I should continue even if other people told me it's a stupid thing to do. A friend of mine also wrote the score for one of his films, which we released on Hermes Records.
LWLies: Are music and cinema closely connected in Iran? Sadighi: Persian contemporary music owes Persian cinema a lot; most of the musicians working in the cinema industry have more freedom to experiment, to innovate and to build up their creative ideas. Because the music market is so narrow here we cannot take that risk but the cinema industry is more wealthy and the producers invest more in each aspect of their movies. We have a big thank you to say to the cinema.
For more information see www.hermesrecords.com