Throughout history we have seen that some of the greatest works of art were created under pressure. Take, for example, rock and roll music during the 1960s and 1970s while the United States was at war with Vietnam, or great literature produced during World War II. Some of this artwork was more effective in fighting a cause than social and human rights activists were. Why? When we say a country is in conflict, what does it mean? For me it means that something is causing an imbalance. The minority of society may receive more than what the majority perceives is just, so the majority tries to manipulate the scale to create a new balance, in the name of equal treatment. In a conflicted country, we seek balance. Art is a symbol of balance. A song, a film, a painting, they are all symbols of balance. When a musician puts notes on a scale it's very much like a politician attempting to put elements of society in perfect balance. The same analysis applies to painting, filmmaking, poetry, and other art forms.
To repeat: Art is a symbol of balance. An artist is the creator of this balance. A society in conflict seeks the balance. An artist in a society experiencing conflict becomes a symbol for this balancing act. Let’s see it from another perspective. We (the Yellow Dogs*) are an underground band from Iran, a country in conflict, in which the government thinks that they are the voice of the majority of society. The government only wants the people to hear their own voice, and their side of story. They want to balance society too, but in their own way. Instead of creating balance, however, they are isolating large segments of society. Musicians and artists like us are the voices of the isolated part of the society. It is our duty to show the rest of the country that the isolated, unheard elements are alive! We don't want to change others; we only want to be visible, to express our opinions, and to show others that all of us have the right to be part of this big puzzle called society. When people see and hear different styles of thinking and living it will affect their acceptance of the other's ideology. For a country in which many peoples’ politics are based on one ideology, it means certain death to some. But over a long time, seeing and hearing other ways of thinking will foster a renaissance for the society at large. We need to create space in society for everyone to fit into, so that all elements of society are counted and represented. This is our ideal. When we all accept this increased space, we complete the puzzle, a piece of art, a symphony. But when we hide some of the puzzle pieces that we don’t like, for whatever reason, we will fail to achieve the ideal. A puzzle with pieces missing doesn’t work. The social role of a musician in a conflict country is to encourage the people to create that idealistic landscape.
We, the Yellow Dogs, truly are the voice of an isolated part of Iranian youth. We had a small fan base, but word got out about our story and music. The government became curious about us, and because the government doesn’t like us back home, they do not allow us to play freely. So, being an illegal band made us special among the other musicians who try to obtain favor from the government by adopting their music to fit with government norms. We didn't want to make these concessions, and we tried hard not to box ourselves in the bubble that society and authorities expect us to live in.
In Iran it was always a dream for us to play a legal concert, but we couldn't because Western music (as they say) is illegal. We can only dream of playing for the Iranian public. Twice in 2007, however, we performed two concerts with our close friends, a progressive band called Free Keys, in a basement. The atmosphere was great, because 90 percent of the people had never been to a real concert with a dance floor and light show. It was like Shangri-La. You can't experience the same emotion and energy anywhere else, not even in New York.
One of our most important tools for showing ourselves to Iran and its people is the Internet. Right now in Iran there's a lack of entertainment among the younger generation. Instead of spending their time outside of their houses, they spend it in front of their computers. The Internet provides a way to escape from the boredom of day-to-day life, for in this artificial world there are no boundaries, laws, or authorities. Although the government filters a lot of web pages, people still find a way to us.
Our actions will give courage to others to find their own way. As I said before, a society is like a puzzle. But a puzzle with pieces that look exactly the same does not exist because pieces do not fit together.
*To learn more about Obaash and the Yellow Dogs, visit their MySpace page here.