Behzad Omrani grew up in Tehran, in a house ringing to the sounds of his father’s record collection – mostly the twangs and twirls of American Country & Western.
Years later he formed Bomrani, one of the Islamic Republic’s first country-blues bands, and one of a handful of groups that has started disrupting the local music scene with performances a world away from Iran’s traditional rhythms.
“I really like Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, John Denver, B.B. King, Gogol Bordello, Eric Clapton and Roger Waters,” the 29-year-old told Reuters by phone from the Iranian capital.
His father brought his records back from his studies in Tennessee. Omrani’s distinctive gruff voice and six-piece band had now taken those influences onto the stages of Tehran, a considerable achievement in a country where some once called America the “Great Satan”.
Five-member band Pallett has been finding similar success with its jazzier fusions of clarinet, cello and double bass.
Both bands’ musical styles are a refreshing alternatives to generic pop that is breaking out in other parts of the music scene. But the subject matter of their songs is less likely to jolt traditionalists in the Islamic state.
“A Thousand Tales”, one of Pallett’s most popular songs, is infused with imagery of soldiers and revolutionaries, evoking memories of Iran’s eight-year long war with Iraq.
“The brother is covered with blood. The brother will rise, like the sun into a house,” sings frontman Omid Nemati.
Fan Sarah Nasiri said the song brought back images of her childhood. “It brings back to life those dark years. In many ways, we lost our childhood because of the war” said the young woman, whose brother served in the war as a pilot.
Pallett’s songs pop up on Spotify and iTunes but band co-founder Rouzbeh Esfandarmaz said he does not know who is selling the royalties to use the songs, or getting money from them being played.
“We get no money and we don’t even know who is selling them … Whoever it is, I hope that they get what they deserve!” he joked. They have to resort to making money the old-fashioned way at home, selling 60,000 copies of their first CD, “Mr. Violet”.
(Reporting By Michelle Moghtader; Editing by Sami Aboudi, Michael Roddy and Andrew Heavens)