Civil Liberties

Let Freedom Sing

Iran's mystery diva.


In Iran women are not allowed to sing solo when men are present. But according to the Middle East news site Al Bawaba, "aggravated young Iranians (and there are many…) are tuning nowadays in to a mysterious voice that, according to them, symbolizes the notion of 'freedom.'"

That would be the enigmatic techno-pop diva known as DJ Maryam, whose traditional vocal trembles have been digitally intensified and who has inspired a widespread cult that mixes celebrity and martyrdom. Maryam's myth is that she has been imprisoned after being caught singing at a party. In some versions, the mullahcracy has cut out Maryam's tongue; in others, authorities have pulled out her teeth. Sometimes she has a wealthy father, but no amount of money can free her.

Not so, says DJ Maryam, who was interviewed on BBC Persian radio in October. According to reporter Shahla Azizi, "She told BBC that she is in fact an 18-year-old 'moloodi' (religious/mystic music) singer who only performs for women. She complained that her music had been recorded and disseminated without her permission, and that rumors of her arrest were unfounded….She likes [techno-pop] because it has movement in it, and that is what is needed for progress." Her real name, she told the BBC, "is Mahshar, daughter of the sun and the earth and sister of water and air."

Maryam's/Mahshar's fans interpreted the interview their own way, according to Azizi, concluding that she was forced to say what she did. One added, "She is one of us–just listen to her.