For some years now, Iran has been the scene of several anti-government protests. Starting in 2019, the general discontent and the increase in fuel prices have led Iranians to take to the streets several times. The government’s response to this issue has been drastic and has seen the killing of many protesters. To stop the sharing of information about the protests and the deaths of protesters on social media, the government shut down the internet causing a nationwide blackout for a few days. To these issues, along with others, is added the unfortunate situation of women who, since 1979, are forced to wear the hijab in public, regardless of their faith or culture. For some time now, Iranian women have been protesting against the mandatory hijab, risking their lives. The episode of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, last September, who died for not having completely covered her hair and neck with a hijab, was the straw that broke the camel’s back so that the whole country started a massive protest that has spread to many parts of the world so that women have started to post videos of themselves cutting their own hair, on social media, supporting the cause of Iranian women therefore of those who burned the hijab in public shouting “Women, life, freedom!“. In support of them asking for freedom, men are added. Those who take to the streets to protest against the absurdities of the government are mostly young. They are beaten and arrested, many of them sentenced to death. In this way, by killing a large part of the young people, the government is killing the future of its own country. Those who disagree and protest against the absurdities of the government are heavily penalized.
The government wants to silence them, cut off communications to stifle their voices. However the veil (or, even curtain) covering the women’s mouths, blocking speech and covering sound is pulled away so that the sound walks and spreads, above all, thanks to the art and sensitivity of those who, overseas, take the baton giving those voices an echo to infinity. Voices Unveiled by Ehsan Matoori are voices that live beyond time, beyond space and even beyond death. They tell not only possible stories but the facts that are still happening today in Iran. In fact, according to the project proposal, the composition was inspired after Matoori met with one of the survivor and listened to her horrifying recounts of the unbearable conditions she endured. Before discover the composition, it is important to know about Maliheh Moradi and Mina Deris who are the voices of the protagonists. Being both Iranian, the singers have lived firsthand experiences of profound injustice.
M.M.: “I have been interrogated three times by Iran’s judicial system just because I am a singer, traveled outside of Iran, or gave an interview! It was tough to go to a concert outside of Iran and come back. With all the problems and obstacles that existed, sometimes I was exhausted and heartbroken, but I did not despair and did not stop trying and fighting to get my social rights and freedom.”
In fact, since childhood, they have dreamed of singing and have suffered from the bans and restrictions imposed by the Iranian government. They have faced many issues and lot of stress. They have made many sacrifices, and today live far from their families. Probably they can’t even go back to Iran.
The two singers met a few years ago at the Female Voices of Iran Festival, in Berlin, where they participated singing on behalf of all women and for all women. By chance, later they ended up on the same plane to the U.S.A. and, now, they join the same project.
Maliheh Moradi was born in Garmsar, northern Iran. She began her musical journey as a child by studying Tonbak, then learning to sing with her father who is a great connoisseur of Iranian classical music. She continued her studies in Tehran and has performed live in Iran and abroad. She is one of the women who has spent her entire life working professionally in the field of Iranian classical music and singing and she is also a singing teacher.
Mina Deris’ origins are from Abadan, in southwestern Iran. Being very close to the Persian Gulf during the Iraq war years her family was forced to relocate to Tehran. At the age of fifteen she returned to Abadan where she began her musical studies, which she then continued in the capital, there she rediscovered her cultural and musical roots. Unfortunately, as a woman, being forbidden to sing she still had to study as an engineer and worked as such for many years as she furthered her studies and when she could perform outside her native country. Mina sings in many different languages and dialects and being an ethnic Arab from Iran, she mainly focuses on performing Arabic music. The melodies she sings are not well known even by many Iranians. The result of their diversities, in background and experience, give completeness to the entire Matoori’s composition.
Voices Unveiled is a three parts composition. The first part of the composition is opened by the sound of the didgeridoo who welcomes the song-story sung by Moradi in the role of an Iranian girl who fled her country.
M.M.:” The first part I read is the story of a dreamy girl with a mind free from social problems and suffering and she is very interested in singing. On stage, when she realizes that she cannot sing freely in Iran, she leaves the country illegally. She midway she encounters some problems and is killed in a conflict with unknown and dishonest men. The poems I have read in this section have a romantic content but with nostalgia, and end with a poem that says: “We have come to the end but we have not begun.” “
The fleeing girl crosses the borders of Türkiye. Once she reaches Eastern Europe, she is tragically and brutally raped and beaten to death in the cold rainforests of Bulgaria. According to Moradi the two girls of the story have different personalities but a common goal of singing in a free country. Even those who are non-Pharsi speaker are involved in a strong empathy that causes shivers given by the atmosphere that is built like a scenography complete with meteorological phenomena. In fact, before the words there is the music speaking.
The second part transforms the pain of the tragedy into almost physical pain accompanied by a disarming sense of impotence in the face of the facts. In this part of the composition the protagonist, played by Mina Deris, is the sister of the man who killed the young man of the rival tribe. Therefore, according to the rules of certain tribes, she is forced to sacrifice herself and is designated as the bride of a member of the rival tribe. But she is not to blame and her heart already belongs to another. To avoid marrying the one she doesn’t love, she flees Iran.
M.D.:“In situations like this, an Iranian woman, even though she hasn’t committed any crime, will pay for someone else’s faults. This still happens today especially among the tribes of southern Iran.”
During her escape she faces various difficulties but the people she meets support her, embrace her, make her feel loved. As soon as she reaches the border, where only the sea separates her from her safety she is exhausted by her long journey, she looks in front of her and she nods toward the opposite side. Unfortunatelly it is the wrong sign and someone shoot in her heart. Tired from the journey, she loses the sense of reality, she is confused and believes that her lover is in front of her and that the strong blow she feels to her heart is not a shot but a kiss from her beloved. The girl dies but her soul starts to dance.
M.D.:“In southern Iran the sound of cymbals (as seen in the dance towards the end of the second part of the composition) occurs when someone dies. It is a sound that accompanies the dead, that greetshim or her. The song “Laeh la eh la la” (No God Than the One God) is the song with which women accompany the bride to the wedding. This ritual has two meanings, it is in fact used to greet a deceased and also to accompany him or her to burial and also when a woman gets married.”
The third part sees the two dead women joining each other, mourning the pain and the suffering they have gone through. They become each other’ s voice “Your voice is familiar to my soul”. They find hope, rebirth, love, and eternity in their voices. “In the name of women, In the name of love”. As the final part it breaks your heart but, unlike the Greek tragedy that ends in catharsis, this conclusion inspires horror and anger at the profound injustices that have been perpetuated for too many years now against Iranian women and beyond. Voices Unveiled is a painful composition but intense and solemn that manages to bring attention to this topic to achieve awareness of the absurdity of the human being who has forgotten to be a human being.