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"Speaking of Hayedeh and a God Given Voice"

By Hooman Khalatbari (Opera Conductor, Graz, Austria)

The documentary film, "Hayedeh, Legendary Persian Diva" ["Sokhan az Hayedeh"], was among the films screened in Sweden at the 9th International Exile Film Festival, in Oct. 2009. On 20th 2010, 20th anniversary of Hayedeh's death in exile, the film has been released on DVD by the Persian Dutch Network in Amsterdam. The following review recently has been published on BBC Persian website by the opera conductor, Hooman Khalatbari.

This 100-minute documentary is a film by Pejman Akbarzadeh, a 29-year-old Persian pianist and journalist residing in the Netherlands. The film was screened on October 25 at the Hagabion Hall in Gothenburg, and in May 2009 it was nominated for "Best Documentary Film" at the Noor Film Festival in Los Angeles.

"Sokhan az Hayedeh" is a condensed yet accurate look at the life and lasting works of this beloved Persian singer. References to the singer's initial songs, while not neglecting those who created the songs, presenting LPs and and videos relevant to each piece of work, interviews with figures prominent in shaping the works... all demonstrate a well-researched project which has relied on knowledge of both music and the media.

Poster of Hayedeh Documentary Premiere in Amsterdam, January 2009

At times, the content of the documentary takes on a political tilt. Of course, Pejman Akbarzadeh has admitted in his interviews that he "attempted to also present the social-political atmosphere of each period so that a more accurate picture would be portrayed of the circumstances under which Hayedeh worked." However, in certain sections of the documentary this topic takes on a different hue, especially in the first scene, when Hayedeh refers to the Islamic revolution in Iran as a "calamity". Although it is Hayedeh who has such an interpretation, placing it in the initial scene of the film leads the viewer to sense that this is in some fashion the feeling of the filmmaker, who, perhaps, uses Hayedeh's word to express his own reason for leaving his country.

The film begins with a personal narrative, perhaps shared by many young Persians, about the way in which the filmmaker became aware of Hayedeh's death. Pejman says that during his childhood in Persia he was totally unaware of the existence of such a singer. It was the people's reactions to Hayedeh's death which attracted his attention to her.

Pejman Akbarzadeh, Q & A session after the documentary screening at Int'l Exile Film Festival, Gothenburg, Sweden, Oct. 2009

The main body of the film, however, removes itself from personal issues while, in an open and unbiased manner, covers the singer's life and activities. The presentation of factual information, interviews, musical performances... are carried out smoothly and with great variety for an audience of every kind. Yet the filmmaker's professional knowledge of music has not resulted in a work which could only be interesting to an audience akin to himself. Of course, there are interesting points in the film for such a professional audience, but the non-professional viewer, who is unfamiliar with the technical aspects of music, is also able to grasp the issues and become aware of the vicissitudes of Hayedeh's career.

"Hayedeh, Legendary Persian Diva" is the story of a singer who begins to shine with the works of Ali Tajvidi in the "Gol-haye Rangarang" program on Radio Iran, then falls into the cabaret musical scene in Tehran, gradually blends into Persian pop music and, after the 1979 revolution which bans women from singing in public, is forced to flee her own country.

In those years, Hayedeh's relationship with the Pahlavi Royal Court was a hot topic of discussion and rumors. In order to pursue the story and acquire further details, Pejman Akbarzadeh even seeks the former Queen of Persia in Paris. Farah Pahlavi speaks of fleeing from Tehran to Cairo, and how Hayedeh "continued to maintain our friendship," a topic which caused some people to turn away from Hayedeh, without being fully familiar with her works.

With the onset of the revolution, the film takes on an atmosphere of crisis: the violent scenes of demonstrations in Tehran; the setting of the Rex Cinema on fire; the days when many Iranians were fleeing their homeland perhaps forever.

In her interviews, Hayedeh recalls the revolution as a "sedition" and says that her only hope for living was to return to her homeland. After the revolution, her songs and her style of singing undergo a perceptible change. The sorrow of having to leave her country is revealed in her voice, while working with significant personalities in the world of Persian pop music, such as Sadegh Nojouki, Farid Zoland, Andranik, Manouchehr Cheshmazar... has resulted in a variety of lasting works: "Bright Days" ["Rouzaye Roshan"], "Your Shoulders" ["Shanehayat"], "Life" ["Zendegi"]... The compositions of the lyricists and songwriters benefit from the power of her voice while Hayedeh, who had had a substantial singing experience, knowingly or unknowingly, uses some of her knowledge of classical Persian music in highly effective performances.

These works have added significantly to the repertoire of Persian pop music in exile. In this midst, an almost forgotten point in the documentary are the lyrics written for Hayedeh, lyrics which played a significant role in the survival of many of her songs. Perhaps due to his professional musical training, the filmmaker has unconsciously given more weight to the musical aspects of the works.

In twists and turns, the documentary covers the thorny atmosphere of working in the Persian community in Los Angeles, moving to Hayedeh's controversial concerts in Israel, followed by her performances at the Royal Albert Hall in London, conducted by Farnoush Behzad, which were apparently among "the first significant Persian concerts held abroad in the years after the revolution."

As the film continues, Hayedeh's artistic regression in her final years is perceptible; songs which have, by and large, failed to remain in people's memories. Fortunately, in this section, as well as the sections relating to Hayedeh's death, the filmmaker's love for the singer has not resulted in a biased view of the topic. While remaining indifferent to the Iranian community's sensitivities, Pejman has covered the topics which he felt were necessary; a treatment which, according to the BBC's reporter from the Noor Film Festival in Los Angeles, "caused the objections of some of Hayedeh's relatives and fans."

The following sections of the documentary pertain to videos which are scattered in various archives and a family who makes no effort to organize and systematize the mother's works. In this midst, there are also sections covering events from behind the scenes. Alongside the variety and joyful atmosphere which these sections of the film impart, that which most attracts attention is the uniformity of the texture of Hayedeh's voice, both while singing and speaking. It is the natural timbre of Hayedeh's voice and her God-given voice which her music masters, such as Ali Tajvidi, Ahmadi Ebadi and Farhang Sharif, have merely refined and polished - a voice in the class of mezzo-soprano, which in the course of time became more alto.

Hayedeh at Royal Albert Hall, London, 1987

Another point of interest is the shape of Hayedeh's countenance - prominent cheeks which help present an expressive and resonating voice. In many opera singers, after years of singing practice, their cheeks become more prominent. However, Hayedeh's cheeks were naturally prominent, which may have been one of the factors in her expressive and resonating voice.

"Hayedeh, Legendary Persian Diva" may be the first Persian documentary about a singer which covers all aspects of a singer's career with minutiae. Almost all personalities who have been significant in the creation of her works are present in the film - Farid Zoland, Sadegh Nojouki, Andranik, Mohammad Heidari, Farnoosh Behzad... each of whom discusses the various aspects of his memories with Hayedeh, the timbre of her voice and their working relationship. In each period of her life, the documentary attempts to impart the vital information to the audience. To some extent, such enthusiasm and attention to detail compensates for some of the technical weaknesses in the film.

In the documentary, former Queen Farah Pahlavi calls Hayedeh as the Persian Maria Callas. I think, however, that Hayedeh is Persian Jesse Norman - in the power of her voice, her overbearing presence and facial expressions. I believe that for the future generations of Persia, Hayedeh's work will remain as a cultural memento.

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