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Mohsen Namjoo

Iran

Status: Convicted in Absentia

Photo by Babak Payami. Courtesy of Uncensored Music

Mohsen Namjoo’s music is a melange of varied musical genres, cultural influences, and historical tradition. This new style was informed by Mohsen’s varying passions combined to create a unique music of protest.

Mohsen’s musical journey began at the age of 12 when he studied classical Persian music under a local master in his hometown of Torbat-e Jam. The spark was lit. Mohsen went on to study Music at the University of Tehran where he was first exposed to western rock and blues music. After listening to Jim Morrison and the Doors’ “Break On Through,” he was struck by the similarities between Persian musical scales and the Pentatonic scale. Mohsen launched himself into a study of Blues masters: BB King, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters. Then came 70s Rock icons: Jethro Tull, Supertramp, Camel, and especially Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Complementing this love of music was Mohsen’s passion and intimate knowledge of classical Persian poetry. As his work evolved and incorporated all of his many influences, the poetry of figures like Rumi and Hafez made their way into many of his songs. These old poets critiqued the conceptions of their time. Mohsen’s music takes the works of these masters and adapts them to a modern context giving them new life and new significance. Each song is a literary exercise, and is accompanied by essays and pages of notes.

Mohsen has gained both national and international acclaim for his work. His fans believe he has given voice to their collective experience growing up under the shadow of strict Islamic law. Much of his music carries with it a subtle critique of the Iranian state. This inevitably has led to criticism and persecution.

In the summer of 2009, a number of Mohsen's personal recordings were released, a number of which contained song lyrics that incorporated Qur’anic verses. Qur’anic scholar Abbas Salimi Namin denounced these pieces as "insulting, sneering performances of Qur'anic Verses with musical instruments." Mohsen was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison for recording music that "dishonors" passages of the Qur'an.

In September of that same year, Mohsen wrote a public letter to his family, the country’s religious authorities, and its people apologizing for his work. He asserted that the release of his private recordings was not his doing and that he intended to sue those responsible.

Since that summer, Mohsen has lived, performed, and taught abroad. He is now based in New York City, but performs all over the US and Europe. Mohsen’s most recent album "Personal Cipher" was released on June 5th, 2016. He plans on following it with a new album "Voices from the East,” slotted for release on August 2017.

By Ben Ballard, August 2017.

Sanama, Mohsen Namjoo and the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble at The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in autumn 2016.

Adame Pooch,  Mohsen Namjoo 

Maryam, Mohsen Namjoo 

Mohsen Namjoo feat Habib Meftah - The Kurtanidzeh of colorful lovers

Daf, Mohsen Namjoo and the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble

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