Our Daily Bread 408: Liraz ‘Zan’

October 26, 2020

Dominic Valvona

Liraz ‘Zan’
(Glitterbeat Records) 13th November 2020

It’s hardly surprising that with all the ongoing tensions between the nefarious Iranian regime and its neighbours, and with the continued oppression of its own population that attempting to show the Middle Eastern titan in a good light is frustratingly difficult (an understatement in itself).  Especially when you’re Jewish, and part of that atavistic empire’s age-old Jewish community that stretches right back to Persia’s Biblical entry in the Old Testament: A community originally bound in chains, the spoils of conquest marched into slavery in 727BC, but eventually granted citizenship and even given the right of return to build a new temple in Jerusalem by the more enlightened Cyrus in the 6th century BC. Or that one of your most recent roles on screen is in a clandestine Mossad agent mission to infiltrate the Iranian air defences so that Israel can disable a nuclear reactor drama (the Apple+ series Tehran). But the actress, dancer and electronic pop siren Liraz Charhi is willing to give it a good go, covertly recording her second cinematic lensed Middle Eastern fantasy with a myriad of Iranian musicians under the radar of the ayatollah hardliners, over the internet.  

In a climate in which tolerance is scarce and with most creative forms and freedoms of expression attracting, at the very least, suspicion, and at the worse, imprisonment, even death, trying to make a record with a strong feminine message seems an almost impossible, dangerous task: Liraz’s collaborators will probably have to remain anonymous indefinitely for their own safety. 

The Iranian state’s secret police would have a field day with this project; mainly in its citizens daring to work with a émigré living in the Israel. For Liraz’s family were forced to escape during the tumultuous upheavals of Iran’s revolution in the 70s; setting up home in Israel’s capital, Tel Aviv, a safe haven for those escaping an ever-authoritarian Islamic regime. That city has grown to become an artistic community of foreigners, living cheek-in-jowl with both an older Israeli population and diaspora of Jews from around the globe. Liraz however, still feels bound to that Iranian heritage. And it seems when listening to her evocative soothed and lush bright vocals, she is the latest in a long line of strong outspoken women from that community. A baton has been handed down you could say.

Feeling adrift, Liraz upped sticks to become an actress in L.A. Little did she know that the city would open her eyes to another concentration of Iranian émigrés, including many from the Iranian-Jewish community. Whilst starring in major productions such as Fair Game and A Late Quartet, Liraz would find comfort and a sense of belonging in that diaspora. She’d learn much absorbing both the ancient musical traditions and the pop and disco that filled the clubs in a pre-revolutionary, pro-miniskirt Tehran, including such famed Iranian acts as Googoosh and Mahasty – both of which you can hear premating this both sorrowful and vibrant new album Zan

It was much in part down to the courage of the women in this astoundingly large community (so large that L.A. is nicknamed “Tehrangeles”) that emboldened Liraz to take up singing. She would record her debut Persian imbued album Naz in 2018, inspired by those whose only outlet and determination of self-identity and freedom was through music. Two years later and once more ingrained in that atavistic land’s richly woven musical history, she enacts a clandestine connectivity between cultures on the “second chapter”.

In a similar cinematic imagining of a twanged and vibrato Persian Western, the Zan panorama is full of atmospheric sweeps, sand dune contouring, swirling dervish and Sufi enchantments alongside bouncing electronic-toms, zaps and melodious pop anthems. Synthesized effects converge and melt with a rich tableau of Persian instrumentation; from the “daf” frame drum and “tonbak” hand drum to the spindled lute played “oud”. Fanned, spindly sounds of that region and Liraz’s diaphanous wooed, swooned and deeply felt voice add an extra spell to the electro and disco pop elements. This can sound as varying as an Arabian version of Air, on the aching ballad ‘Sheb Gerye’, or like M.I.A. on the fizzled tapping stripped dance track ‘Nafas’.

Sung beautifully and passionately in the Farsi dialect of that heritage, titles and poetry take on deeper meanings when translated. “Zan” means “women, sing”, and points to a celebration of the female spirit in such trying times, and under such oppression. From the cross-generational lullaby ‘LaLai’, sung by each matriarch in Liraz’s family to their daughters, to the courtly pop of ‘Zan Bezan’, an evocation of that strength and sense of the stoic Iranian heroine is made clear.

Electronic music with a message, an interesting backstory and methodology, but more than this Zan is a brilliant dreamy Persian disco and billowing pop album that continues a tradition of strong female voices in the face of extreme intolerance. Those nameless Iranian collaborators should be both happy and proud with the results, which do indeed shed a positive light on the country’s rich musical tapestry.

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.


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