By Sonya Weakley, Staff Writer, America.gov
Chance meeting inspired Persian singer Farshid Amin to write "Pray with Me"
Iranian singer Farshid Amin performs "Pray with Me," his song about change, at an Obama victory party in California.
Washington - When singer-songwriter Farshid Amin stepped off the stage at the Orange County, California, Democratic election night party in Costa Mesa, he heard comments he didn't expect.
"They didn't believe I was really Iranian," he said of some reporters and others who interviewed him. "I answered that question over and over."
The skepticism may have been in response to his slight British accent, but he believes some may doubt that a person from Iran - or any other country - would have a compelling perspective on American social and political issues.
To Amin, who came to the United States by way of England in 1988, that presumption misses the point of "Pray with Me," the song he wrote and sang at the victory party for President-elect Obama: The prayer for peace is universal.
"I am not a political person. It was not about taking sides. Since Obama was talking about change, they thought [the song] was a good fit."
"Pray with Me" reflects on the personal toll of war but projects optimism that "change will come." The accompanying video displays the word "change" several times and ends with a series of culturally diverse smiling faces. On some Web sites, the video is labeled "Obama Song."
Melahat Rafiei, executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County, an area of more than 3 million people, said the song was perfect for the victory party.
"So many people here had poured their hearts into this campaign for 20 to 22 months, and this [victory] was the change we were hoping for and praying for," Rafiei said. "That was the message the song exemplified to us." (See "Barack Obama Wins Historic Election Victory.")
Rafiei heard the song after Amin performed it at a private fundraiser in Los Angeles in October. When she booked him for her event, media inquiries went up noticeably. "We had press here from Dubai," she said.
Amin said he wrote the song about six months before the U.S. presidential election, after a chance meeting on a flight to the United States from the Middle East. "We stopped in Frankfurt [Germany] and picked up an American [military] officer who was a doctor at a hospital in Iraq," he said.
Comments about sitting next to each other in an exit row led to a deeper conversation. "He took out all these pictures of himself operating on people. It was eye-opening" to see the wounded soldiers, some of them young, he said.
One of the stories that stuck with Amin was about how U.S. medical staff would treat suicide bombers who survived their own attacks. "They would do surgery on someone who just tried to kill them," he said.
Amin's song begins with a soldier's point of view. "The lyrics start as someone writing a letter," he said, "but it is the story of people at home - so many families are affected."
He made one point in particular - that getting a gold star is not always a good thing. In the song, a mother expecting her son for Christmas instead gets the star, symbolizing her son's death. (A gold star lapel button may be awarded to some relatives of soldiers who died in combat in certain conflicts, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.)
PERSIAN POP STAR
Though "Pray with Me" is Amin's first widely known song in English, he is a successful and high-profile Persian pop musician. He has released five Persian albums since 2000 and is working on another.
His first single, "Nastaran," about a broken-hearted lover, was an immediate hit in the Persian market. The lyrics, he said, are "harsh" compared with most Persian pop. It is also louder and "danceable," he said. "It was so different at the time."
Amin was born in Iran, but his family moved to England when he was about 10 years old, he said. He came to the United States specifically to begin a career as a musician after graduating from college with a degree in math.
He joined a relative in Washington and, using the name Fash Amen, became lead singer of a local rock band called Fear of Man. The band was close to a recording contract in the mid-1990s, he said, but the deal fell through, leaving him disappointed and unsure of what to do next.
Until then, he had written and sung only in English, but, at his wife's suggestion, he started writing Persian songs. After the success of "Nastaran," he moved his family to Los Angeles where the U.S. Persian recording industry is based.
He is working on his first album in English, hoping to release it in February 2009. The songs, which draw on his earlier experience in Western hard rock in an "underground" style, comment on universally common themes and ideas, such as the theme of "Pray with Me."
"It is about people," he said. "It is a human issue, not a political one."
Amin's "Pray with Me" can be listened to on his Web site.
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