Payvand.com -- On the afternoon of Sunday March 31, the four of us headed to Berkeley. Destination was Blake's, where Tehran's 127 band was going to play that night. I had met Sohrab, the leader of the band, in 2002 in Tehran when I went to their house to meet his mother Roya Monajem, a very fascinating woman who has written many heavy duty articles which I'm still struggling to understand :-) There we were introduced to Sohrab and he brought some of his black & white photos to share with us. They were interesting. But somehow my first impression of Sohrab was that of a shy young man, perhaps lacking confidence. I thought he was even a little weird! Then in the following years I kept hearing about a music band Sohrab had put together called 127. The band was one of the more famous so called underground bands in Iran. These bands are referred to as underground since they cannot get permits to operate in the open, hold public concerts, publish and sell CDs, etc. But they are tolerated. They operate in their private studios, hold private concerts and sell their CDs quietly.
In the Iranian Music Underground, 127 has especially been very successful. They have even performed abroad. In particular, they had been to the Austin Music Festival a couple of times in the past. And now in 2008 they were back in the U.S. again to play in the Austin festival and go on a one month tour. And since one of their stops was in Bay Area (San Francisco and Berkeley), we couldn't miss the chance to see them in action! After a few email exchanges with Roya and Sohrab, we had made plans to meet them on Sunday.
We arrived at Blake's around 7PM. We paid $8 cover charge each, got our wristbands and were admitted to the wonderland! Pretty chip I thought. We went downstairs where the bands play. It was kind of small and frankly looked like a dakhmeh (dark hole). We aren't used to going to Iranian concerts in small places and paying so little. It must be because the Iranians like everything to be grand :-) But Blake's is really a student hangout and within that context it was a great place.
Another band was playing there, and their music was deafening. We had to get out of there. I quickly found Sohrab. We hugged and kissed and tried to talk. But there was no use. So we moved upstairs to the restaurant where we could sit and talk in the relative peace.
This time my impression of Sohrab was totally different. He talked about Iran, the underground world, their music, their band, the adventure of getting exit visa from Iran and then visitors visa to get to U.S., their experience in U.S., and so on. He was very fun! Too outgoing in fact. He can scream really good as you can tell from the pictures :-)
Sohrab said their studio in Tehran had been raided six times by the police so far. I asked him:
- Q: Were beaten?
- A: No.
- Q: Instruments or equipments damaged?
- A: No.
- Q: So what did they do?
- A: They searched the place and the computers and left.
Seems like intimidation tactics. Just to make them aware they shouldn't cross lines perhaps. Sohrab said they played it very safe and didn't even allow girls to their studio. Wise decision I thought. Women are the source of all problems, including the wars, in the world :-) But I didn't dare to say it loudly as there were some women around, including my own wife :-)
Sohrab also talked about their experience in the United States. He said he always thought Iranians here, especially in Los Angeles area, are unfriendly to other Iranians. But after getting a free ride from a fellow Iranian taxi driver, being indulged with a complimentary chelow-kabab (rice and kabab) by an Iranian restaurant owner, and having their posters printed free of charge by an Iranian-owned shop in LA, he had realized what a wrong impression he had had. For me the chelow-kabab would have done the job...
127 tour was a low budget one put together by an agent and through a lot of efforts by the band themselves. They had traveled by car from Los Angeles to Bay Area, and were going to Seattle next. Generally they were performing in small places like Burke's. Sohrab mentioned that someone was going to meet him there that night and had offered to arrange big concerts for them. But he said he feels they are better suited to play in small places. Here was one Iranian who didn't think it's all about being grand, and I thought he was being very honest about this.
We talked over dinner. I wanted to show more good side of Iranians, but Sohrab didn't order more than a French Fries. I ordered beer for him too, which I don't think he touched. But somehow the glass was empty when we got up... In any case, it was quite an enjoyable dinner and conversation. But the real fun was about to begin, downstairs in the dakhmeh!!
We stood close by watching the band getting ready to play. Almost everything was being done by them. That's how a low budget concert works. Ok, the sound wasn't always perfect. But they more than made up for it in their performance. Once the band started playing, they quickly warmed up the place and made the crowd, who had packed the small place, really feel at home and enjoy the band and the music.
I felt the band members were truly working as a closely knit team. They all came across very warm, energetic and friendly. They were all very intimate with their instruments and played at ease. And soon Sohrab got intimate with the crowd too. At times he would run and sing among the crowd. It was a lovely performance all around.
The performance which had started right after 10 PM, lasted till midnight. This was a chance for us to feel young again, and at the same time to feel close to home... But soon it was time to say goodbye to Sohrab and the band. We left the place with good memories. If you have a chance to see 127, or other Iranian underground bands for that matter, you shouldn't miss it!
See full set of photos here.
|Band Members||Sohrab Mohebbi, Alireza Pourasad, Salmak Khaledi, Sardar Sarmast, Shervin Shahamipour, Yahya Alkhansa|
|Influences||dylan, davis, parker, radiohead, alizadeh, nazeri, chet, carver, iggy, whatever...|
|Sounds Like||sad o bist o haft, no smoking(not these), cake, tom waits...|
|Type of Label||None|
www.youtube.com/127band 127 @ you tube
www.phisteria.com phisteria records
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