For her second album, Zan (“Women” in Farsi), the Israeli-Persian singer collaborated online with composers and musicians from Iran. Everything had to be secretive to avoid the gaze of Tehran’s mullahs and secret police. The result is her private revolution, songs with a true message, music to make people dance and smile – and above all, think.Worldwide FM Monthly Show
Shadow patterns through a decorative screenwindow. A door opening deep inside a deserted ancient palace. A shimmering blueveil through which kohl-rimmed eyes watch, and widen. Intrigue. Mystery. The pastand present, overlapping. Roya.
The new third album from award-winningIsraeli-Persian singer Liraz is an invitation to dream. Anthems, love ballads,glittery Middle Eastern dance tunes … Acollection of 11 tracks that enrich that signature blend of tradi-modernrhythms and retro-Persian sonics, Roya(‘fantasy’ in Farsi) is music as a magic portal, an arched gateway to a placeof peace, joy and unfettered, chador-waving freedom.
“Myfantasy, I wished for peace in the world,” she sings in Farsi, in that goldenvoice, on the hallucinogenic title track. “Iwill not lose my hope/You’ll see, ourhearts will cross.”
Liraz and her Israeli sextet (three women,three men) recorded Roya over tendays in Istanbul, in a basement studio hidden from public view and cracklingwith creativity.
With them, on violin, viola and the tar, thewasp-waisted wooden Iranian lute, were composers and musicians from the Iraniancapital, Tehran. The same clutch of anonymous players who previously collaboratedwith Liraz online, no questions asked, no faces shown, under the radar ofTehran’s secret police, for her feted 2020 album, Zan. Players who’d travelled undercover from Tehran to Istanbul towork with Liraz and producer/multi- instrumentalist Uri Brauner Kinrot in theflesh.
Or at least, that is what Liraz imagined.
‘There is apassage connecting our tongue and heart, sustaining the secrets of the worldand soul,’ wroteRumi, the greatest Sufi mystic and poet in the Persian language, whose proseLiraz treasures. ‘As long as our tongueis locked the channel is open/the moment our tongue unlocks the passage willclose.’
“Was it just in my mind? Was I really in thesame room as these Iranian soul sisters and brothers?” Liraz pauses, waves anelegant hand. “All I remember are fragments: the fear and anxiety I felt when Iknew they were on their way. The tears of joy and relief we all cried as we embraced.And the music we made! Such music!” She flashes a smile. “It just poured out ofus,” she says.
With strings snaking through pulsingelectronics and wah-wah-guitars, ‘Azizam’ is a psychedelic wonder, strobingaround lyrics that tell of unhinged obsession (“You are the evil killing me/I, who is in love with you”). Featuringmusic written by bassist Amir Sadot, ‘Doone Doone’ is a rollicking ode to theTehrani musicians Liraz befriended through computer screens – and who mighthave been right there, in touching distance, recording with her. ‘Mimiram’ deliversdramatic protestations of love with knowing irreverence; while ‘Omid’ – [whichis both a man’s name and the Farsi word for ‘hope’] with lyrics by an anonymousIranian female musician and music by Zanco-writer Ilan Smilan - tells of a man named Hope and of hope, who is also aman.
A slow, lonely song about Iran, thestring-and-synth-driven ‘Tanha’ was recorded on the day the Iranians may or maynot have arrived in Istanbul. “I am singing about the boundaries that havemelted between us,” says Liraz, who wrote the words and co-wrote the music withSmilan and Brauner Kinrot. “I cried a lot between takes.”
Her Hebrew accent intact (“This is my story,my culture clash”), her confidence boosted by prestigious awards (she wasSonglines Artist of the Year 2021) and widespread international acclaim, Liraz hasnever sounded so passionate, so strong and defiant. Roya, then, is the next phase of a high-profile career further distinguishedby a drive to fight oppression, to champion the right of women everywhere tosing, perform and be heard.
“Israel and Iran are not living in peace.Israelis cannot visit Iran, and Iranians cannot visit Israel. If Iranianscontact Israelis they will go to jail,” says Liraz, whose parents, SephardicJews of Iranian–Jewish descent, left for Israel back when the two countries hadclose ties – but when, even prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, being a Jewin Iran was kept quiet.
Her grandmother had wanted a career as asinger, a profession forbidden to women in Iran.
“Even aged 85, she is a great singer; theother day I put on a record by an Iranian singer and she got up and sangloudly. My family have to sing,” says Liraz, who grew up dancing to the musicof divas such as Ramesh and Googoosh celebrated in Tehran in the ‘60s and ‘70s,the golden age of Persian pop. She also loved female singer-songwriters: KateBush, Tori Amos.
Lessons in singing, music and acting – and astint spent clubbing - were followed by three years working in the US as anactress, appearing in the big budget films such as Fair Game and A Late Quartet.In Tehrangeles – the Little Tehran of Los Angeles – she found her people, embracedher inner Persian: “Iran has always seemed like a lover I’ve been longing for. Ican sense how it is to be Iranian but I’m not in that bubble inside Iran.”
“This paradox made me a dreamer,” Liraz continues,who in a neat art/life twist appeared as a Farsi-speaking Mossad operative inthe 2020 Apple TV espionage series Tehran.“What if I was born in Iran and could not sing – would I try and escape? Thereare always so many stories and visions inside my head. But I know that I needto sing, I must sing, for the muted women of Iran. And I want to sing to Iranabout my feelings for Iran.”
Her 2018 debut album Naz, a collection of mainly pre-revolutionary pop songs by herfavourite female Iranian singers, lit up Iran’s social media. Liraz was sentvideos of women dancing inside their homes, their chadors, headscarves andveils cast off, their faces joyous. Iranian musicians began sending her clips, lyricsand melodies via encrypted files, and so the songs for Zan – and her relationships with the anonymous musicians - tookshape.
With each album, Liraz has grown bolder, moreoutspoken (ask her about Palestine and she’ll extol Palestinian rights, too).If recording in an underground studio with the musicians from Tehran was afantasy, it was a palpable one. The scintillating ‘Bishtar Behand’ captures thehealing power of laughter and togetherness. ‘Gandomi’, its lyrics and musicwritten anonymously, praises cross-cultural romance and commitment; where‘Joonyani’ tells of crazy love, of kissing pictures each night, the cinematic ‘BiHava’ – string-laden and serene – seems to close the circle of friendshipbetween Liraz, her band and the Tehrani musicians.
“I sing that it is not one day we are going tomeet. We are already here with each other, in the now. So let us enjoy beingtogether.”
On the closing track, a female-led version ofthe opener ‘Roya’, they do precisely that. “I’d felt so much power from theseladies who arrived from Iran,” says Liraz. “We became like sisters. On the lastday, with one hour left before everyone had to go, I asked the Iranian womenand the three women in my band to record a very live organic fusion of ‘Roya’.”
“We got it in one amazing take. We all criedas we hugged and said goodbye and then just like that, everyone was gone.” Herdark eyes flash. “Like they’d never been there at all.”
Somewhere in the past, fluttering towards thefuture, a blue veil flies, free, in the wind.