The Islamic Republic’s government has warned travel agencies in Iran against marketing tours abroad featuring concerts by California-based Iranian pop singers.
The directive, issued by the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage, Tourism, and Handicrafts of Tehran Province, targets tours marketed by Iran-based agencies that include performances by diaspora singers that usually take place in neighboring countries. The action highlights a growing tension between the Iranian authorities and artists from the diaspora.
In the recent letter directed to travel and tourism agencies in Tehran, Parham Janfeshan, the director-general of cultural heritage, tourism in Tehran Province, expressed concerns about certain travel agencies advertising and selling tickets for concerts by certain singers, including those from Los Angeles. The communication underscored the importance of adherence to “Islamic values” and warns against potential violations.
The warning includes threats that the travel offices involved in the promotion and sale of services related to these concerts will be referred to a special committee for decision on possible penalties.
Hormatollah Rafiei, the head of the guild for Travel Service Offices and Tourism, warned against violations and emphasized that travel agencies operating permits exclude the right to promote these concerts.
Since the Revolution in 1979 — when pop music was declared “haram” (forbidden) by the founder of the Islamic Republic Rouhollah Khomeini, Iranians have found ways to follow pop music they love. With domestic performances restricted to a very narrow type of regime-approved songs, a vibrant tradition emerged – Iranians began to travel to nearby countries to attend concerts by their favorite singers from the diaspora.
Primarily based in Los Angeles, these Iranian-American pop stars, barred from performing in their homeland, draw substantial crowds during tours in countries like Turkey, the UAE, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. These destinations are financially more affordable for Iranians, with fewer visa requirements.
The Los Angeles region is home to the world’s largest Iranian community outside of Iran and has been a scene of anti-Islamic Republic protest rallies especially since the start of the Women, Life, Freedom movement. There are about 400,000 Iranian-born immigrants in the United States and their children. More than a third of them live in the Los Angeles metropolitan region, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute.
Iranian pop stars enjoy significant popularity also among expatriates in European countries. Singer-songwriters Shahin Najafi and Mohsen Namjou are noteworthy artists based in Europe, boasting a sizable fan base of Iranian expatriates.
The popularity of foreign-based artists surpasses that of their Iran-based counterparts, forming a global community of Iranian music enthusiasts who overcome travel obstacles to enjoy performances prohibited in their country. To gauge their popularity, one can contrast Iranians spending an average of $200 per ticket for concerts by Iranian stars like Ebi, Dariush, or Googoosh in Turkey or Dubai with the popularity of international stars like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé. In Iran, concert tickets typically range from $5 to $10.
Warnings against going to such concerts were issued in previous years when these events were more regularly organized in neighboring countries. However, the recent campaign underscores an escalating divide, intensified by last year’s Women, Life, Freedom protests. The nationwide revolt, sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini, saw numerous exiled Iranian stars rallying behind the people and denouncing the regime’s suppression of dissent.
The majority of these singers utilized their concerts as a platform to amplify the voices of Iranian protesters globally. Concerts by Iranian expatriates commonly featured images of iconic protesters harmed, detained, or killed by Iran’s security forces, accompanied by chants against the Islamic Republic.
Iranian state-run media has consistently published reports criticizing the so-called Los Angeles singers, alleging that they take advantage of popular protests for personal gain. At the same time, the Islamic Republic detained renowned singer Mehdi Yarrahi after releasing a song in support of the opposition to the mandatory hijab, while Shervin Hajipour’s revolution song ‘Baraye’ was crowned the Best Song for Social Change at the Grammys 2023.