THE IRANIAN PSYCHEDELIC ROCK ROOTS OF HABIBI

WRITTEN BY ALEXA SALIMPOUR

DECEMBER 30, 2021

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Never in my life did I think I’d attend an all-female rock band concert and hear my parents’ native tongue not only sung, but celebrated. 

 

I’ll start with some context about myself. I’m a first-generation born American, born to parents who fled the Iranian Revolution of 1979. I was raised in Los Angeles surrounded by a large Persian-Jewish family, and while I wouldn’t say I rejected my Iranian roots, I certainly didn’t praise them. I only listened to the Persian radio station when my grandmother picked me up from school and I was forced to listen to 670 AM instead of my preferred 102.7 KIIS FM. At family celebrations, I rolled my eyes at the all too familiar sound of Iranian music and hoped that instead, I would hear music that I related to. I heard Farsi words that I could translate but they were still foreign to me. They represented my parents and grandparents and a past life I wanted nothing to do with. 

A few years ago, when my eldest sister graduated from college, she found a new appreciation for Persian culture. Her Spotify playlists were a mesh of Avicii and Arash. Again, I rolled my eyes and considered myself more sensible, labeling her as eccentric. If I were to self-analyze my behavior at the time, I’d consider it a classic case of adolescent rebellion. 

As my taste in music evolved, I found myself falling in love with rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I knew the lyrics to songs from my parents’ generation better than they did. I soon discovered modern rock bands and fell upon Habibi—an all-female rock band from Brooklyn. Their sound is a blend of psychedelic rock and ‘60s girl group harmonies, and they have been primarily influenced by Iranian pop music and Middle Eastern psychedelia. I researched the members of the band and found that their lead singer Rahill Jamalifard is the daughter of Iranian immigrants. Jamalifard had bonded with now bandmate Lenny Lynch over Iranian pop and rock music and the rest was history. I was drawn to their story and their music. 
 

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I had the privilege to attend Habibi’s concert at Brighton Music Hall and was captivated by their energy and the reciprocated feeling from the audience. Every single person in attendance was there for a simple love of their music and I had never seen anything like that. I felt transported to another time—a time where facial expressions were the form of communication rather than iPhones. The relationship between the band and the audience was that of close friends or even family—honest and pure. At one point, Jamalifard asked if there was anyone in the audience who spoke Farsi. Before I had time to process the question, my hand was already high in the air and I spotted another hand on the other side of the room. Like a sister, Jamalifard looked at us and said that sometimes they get the pronunciation of the words wrong, or slip-up, and if that happens, well, “it’ll just be our little secret.” They played their song, “Nedayeh Bahar,” which translates to “Song of Spring,” and I waited for what I thought was the impossible. I heard the English lyrics and slowly gave in to my doubts (there was no way they would sing in Farsi). But I was wrong. The last verse started and there it was. I translated what I could in my head. “My God, look at these tall trees…my heart sings in this loneliness…in sync with the beat of the forest...listen my dear, listen.” 

 

While I spent my childhood embarrassed by my parents’ accents and the fact that Thanksgiving meant eating aush-e-reshteh instead of sweet potato casserole, at this moment all I felt was pride in being an Iranian-American. I felt proud to have had a family who at every chance they got, chose to celebrate who they were. My parents had been forced to leave a home that told them they were no longer allowed to exist in that space. Habibi linked my parents’ past, that for most of my life felt incredibly distant, with my present. It was a new blend of culture and time and it was something that felt mine. During the concert I realized a very important fact—it wasn’t about knowing the exact meaning of the Farsi words they sang, but it was the feeling Habibi created within that space. It was safe and magical. Habibi had granted us a gift to a new world—a world of love and acceptance. 

 

So, Habibi, thank you for showing me that it can be cool to be an Iranian-American. 

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