Mehdi Rajabian was sent to prison for making music – but he says that won't stop him

Mehdi Rajabian could be arrested at any moment.

The 30-year-old has already been imprisoned twice for making music the Iranian authorities considered unacceptable.

The first time, he was kept in solitary confinement for three months – but the second saw him jailed for six years and forbidden from engaging in musical activities forever.

Currently on probation, he’s continued to make music in defiance of the regime’s ban. The result is an album, Middle Eastern, that was released by Sony Music last year.

Recorded in secrecy, it features contributions from almost 100 artists in 12 countries, including Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Many of the musicians faced similar persecution to Rajabian. One of the songs was recorded during an air strike, another by a fleeing refugee in a boat.

Each track is accompanied by a painting from Kurdish artist Zehra Doğan, who was herself imprisoned for nearly three years for making art that offended the Turkish government.

And yet, the message is one of peace and unity. Working together in isolation, these disparate artists have crafted an enthralling and moving portrait of the region’s music.

“I feel like, in this period of time and history, Middle Eastern countries needed a project like this,” Rajabian tells the BBC via a secure messaging app from his home in Sari, in the north of Iran.

“Middle Eastern inhabitants are all tormented by the same pain… but music is a common language we can use to convey our sufferings.

“This project is a ‘no’ to war, meaning any kind of war and human rights oppression.”

Inspiration for the album arrived during Rajabian’s second prison term, when he was forced to share a cell with Somalian pirates.

“They would sing me their folk music,” recalls the musician, who still has some handwritten poetry from their leader, “one of the 10 most violent men in the world”.

The experience taught him that music can’t be suppressed, even when you lock up the musicians.

“That’s why I wrote a project for freedom and peace in prison,” he says.

Rajabian’s ordeal began in 2013, when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard raided his office, shut down his recording studio and confiscated all his hard drives.

Back then, he was running a record label that championed female musicians, and was working on an album, The History of Iran Narrated By Setar, which he described as being about the “absurdity” of the Iran-Iraq war.

Accused of distributing “underground music, including many whose lyrics and messages were deemed offensive to the Iranian authorities or the country’s religion,” he was sent to prison. Rajabian says he spent 90 days in solitary confinement, blindfolded and unaware of his surroundings.

He was eventually released on bail but, in 2015, was arrested again – this time with his film-maker brother, Hossein Rajabian – and sentenced to six years in prison, after a three-minute trial.

In protest, the brothers went on hunger strike for 40 days. Rajabian says he lost 15kg and vomited blood. His cellmate, a human rights activist called Vahid Sayadi Nasiri, also took part in the hunger strike and tragically died.

Organisations such as Amnesty International and Freemuse fought for his release, supported by celebrities including Johnny Depp, Peter Gabriel and Ai Weiwei; and his sentence was eventually cut to three years in jail with a further three years on suspended sentence.

Yet he is still dealing with the repercussions of those experiences. At one point, the musician was thought to have developed muscular dystrophy as a result of the interrogations he endured. Starvation has also damaged his ability to play the setar.

Despite everything, he continues to pursue music and his next project could be his riskiest yet. Once again, Rajabian has plans to record female singers – who are still banned from singing in front of male audiences (except relatives) in Iran.

“Right now, I’m working on its instrumentals and then [I will] connect with female singers,” says Rajabian. “A number of female singers from various Middle Eastern countries, who will tell a story, piece by piece, until they all unite in the end.”

He concedes that, in Iran, “it is a crime to contact me and many [people] are afraid to follow up” his requests. But he plans to orchestrate the album online, patching together a network of like-minded artists and breaking down musical borders.

“I’m going to work on this project, even if I go back to prison,” he insists.

Iran’s underground music scene – Behzad Bolour, BBC Persian

After the 1979’s Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini banned the broadcast of music on TV or radio, arguing that it made the human brain “inactive and frivolous”. Only revolutionary music and religious songs were considered permissible, and almost all Iran’s pop singers left for the USA.

Gradually, classical Persian music, under the banner of Sufi music began to resurface. But in the 1990s, a parallel Iran was developing under the skin of the major cities, with young people crafting their own instruments and making their own unofficial songs (which were only broadcast on the BBC Persian request programme).

In early 2000, after a relaxation on the laws around music, the pop market opened up in Iran and, through the internet, underground music which was percolating behind closed doors began to spread out. Bands were playing rock, fusion, rap and alternative folk. And they all talked about a different Iran, an Iran that wants to be modern and level with the rest of the world.

Mehdi Rajabian is from the later generation of these Children Of The Revolution – and an important underground voice in Iran’s music scene.

The musician is motivated by hope and a determination to use his music as a “flashlight” in the darkness.

“In the Middle East, an instrument can be as powerful as a gun, and as forbidden as carrying one,” Rajabian explains.

“In a society where inhuman incidents are happening everywhere, art can record and echo [them] in history. Art exposes truth – and doing so always comes with consequences [in] totalitarian regimes and dictatorships.

“In the first step, the artist loses their normal living situation due to the pressure the regime applies to them, then they get them destroyed – but the outcome is people being aware. This brings light to society, so they would stand in front of the system as well.”

Rajabian is putting his life on the line in pursuit of that goal – but he truly believes his efforts will make a difference.

“No power can stop independent art,” he concludes.

“Art is my weapon and I stand before any power.”

A presidential record: Trump tweets, retweets 125 times in a day

US President Donald Trumps Twitter feed is seen on a laptop screen [File: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Getty Images]

US President Donald Trump set a presidential record for activity on his favorite social media platform on Wednesday, tweeting and retweeting at length about the Senate impeachment trial, the Democrats who want to replace him and much, much more.

By 4:25pm in Washington, DC, Trump had barreled through his previous record of 123 Twitter postings in a day that he set a little over a month ago, according to Factba.se, a service that compiles and analyses data on Trump’s presidency.

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Trump’s previous record for tweets on a single day during his time in the White House was set on December 12, 2019, the day the House Judiciary Committee opened its marathon session to approve two articles of impeachment against the president.

Trump’ set his all-time record for tweets in a day before he became president, with 161 posts in January 2015, according to Factba.se. Most of his tweeting that day was dedicated to plugging his reality television show.

Trump, who began his day in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum, started his Wednesday morning by hammering out 41 tweets between 12am and 1am in Washington, DC (6am to 7am in Davos).

The vast majority of his postings to his more than 71 million followers were retweets of messages, videos and images from Republican lawmakers and other backers haranguing Democrats over the impeachment trial.

His barrage of tweets included plenty of incendiary posts excoriating Representative Adam Schiff, one of the House Democratic impeachment managers, and a retweet of a provocative image posted by White House social media director Dan Scavino that shows Trump walking in front of a fiery scene meant to symbolise the incineration of the “Deep State”.

Factba.se said the record-breaking tweet was a retweet of Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who announced a new podcast about the impeachment trial. 

Opening arguments 

Democrats kicked off their first of three days of opening arguments on Wednesday, attempting to appeal to sceptical Republican senators.

Schiff outlined what the Democrats contend was the president’s “corrupt scheme” to abuse his presidential power and then obstruct Congress’s investigation. He then called on senators not to be “cynical” about politics, but to draw on the intent of the nation’s Founding Fathers who provided the remedy of impeachment.

“Over the coming days, we will present to you – and to the American people – the extensive evidence collected during the House’s impeachment inquiry into the president’s abuse of power,” said Schiff standing before the Senate. “You will hear their testimony at the same time as the American people. That is, if you will allow it.”

Most senators sat at their desks throughout, as the rules stipulate, though some stretched their legs, standing behind the desks or against the back wall of the chamber, passing the time. Visitors watched from the galleries, one briefly interrupting in protest.

Trump’s lawyers sat by, waiting their turn, as the president blasted the proceedings from afar, threatening jokingly to face-off with the Democrats by coming to “sit right in the front row and stare at their corrupt faces”.

The House impeached Trump on December 18 for abuse of power related to his dealings with Ukraine and obstruction of Congress for refusing to participate in the impeachment investigation.

Source: Aljazeera

Eagles Roundup: Chukuweze On Target In Villarreal’s Win At Girona; Aribo Stars For Rangers

Samuel Chukuweze was on target as Villarreal recorded a 3-0 away win against Villarreal in their Copa de Rey clash at the Estadi Municipal de Montilivi on Wednesday night.

Chukuweze started the game on the bench and took the place of Javi Ontiveros in the 52nd minute.

Ramiro Funes Mori put Villarreal ahead in the 24th minute, while Santi Carzola doubled the advantage in the 70th minute.

Chukuweze added the third goal two minutes later.

Read Also: Ndidi Returns, Iheanacho Bags Assist In Leicester Win Against West Ham  

In another Copa de Rey clash, Ramon Azeez was in action in Granada’s 3-1 win against Badalona.

Azeez replaced Roberto Soldado in the 56th minute.

In Scotland Joe Aribo played a key role in Glasgow Rangers’ hard fought 1-0 home win against St Mirren.

Aribo was replaced was replaced by Sheyi Ojo 10 minutes from time.

Jermain Defoe scored the winning goal for Rangers in the 34th minute.

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Source: Complete Sports

Ndidi Returns, Iheanacho Bags Assist In Leicester Win Against West Ham  

Wilfred Ndidi returned to action for Leicester City after recovering from a knee injury while Kelechi Iheanacho had an assist, in the Foxes 4-1 home win against West Ham United in Wednesday’s Premier League game, Completesports.com reports.

Ndidi replaced the injured Nampalys Mendy on 34 minutes while Jamie Vardy also picked up an injury and went off for Iheanacho in the 43rd minute.

In the 88th minute Iheanacho set up Ayoze Perez for Leicester’s fourth goal and was also fouled inside the 18-yard box with Perez converting the penalty on 81 minutes.

However, Ndidi was penalised for bringing down a West Ham player inside the box with Mark Noble scoring from the penalty spot on 50 minutes.

Ndidi has now made 21 Premier League appearance this season with Iheanacho making his eight.

Leicester’s first goal was scored by Harvey Barnes in the 24th minute while Ricardo Pereira doubled their lead in the fifth minute of first half added time.

The win saw Leicester end a run of three straight games without a win.

They stay third on 48 points in the Premier League table.

In other Premier League games Burnley shocked Manchester United 2-0 at Old Trafford while Tottenham Hotspur edged struggling Norwich City 2-1.

By James Agberebi 

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Source: Complete Sports

Jean-Paul Gaultier: Stars turn out for designer's final show

Celebrities have descended on the final fashion show of French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier in Paris, as he bows out after a 50-year career.

Former French first lady Carla Bruni was among the guests photographed at the Paris Fashion Week event.

Gaultier shocked fans when he announced it would be his last haute couture runway last week.

He said the event, at the city’s Théâtre du Châtelet, would be a “party” to celebrate his decades in fashion.

Gaultier, 67, has dressed stars from Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett to Lady Gaga and Rihanna.

He designed Madonna’s “cone bra” corset, which she wore for her 1990 Blonde Ambition tour.

Other stars at the Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2020 show included American actress and model Larsen Thompson and Czech-Italian supermodel Eva Herzigova.

French designer Christian Louboutin – known for his signature red-soled stiletto shoes – was pictured with Lebanese-born British pop singer Mika.

The show comes less than a week after Gaultier tweeted a video announcing that this runway would be his last.

“It’s going to be quite a party with many of my friends, and we’re going to have fun until very, very late,” he said.

Gaultier posted videos of models getting ready backstage on Twitter earlier in the evening.

‘Emotional night’

Ahead of the show, Burlesque model Dita Von Teese posted on Instagram that some of his “legendary muses” would be taking part.

She predicted it would be an “emotional night” and, in an earlier post, wrote: “I’m so grateful to have been part of the story.”

Last year Gaultier criticised what he called “ridiculous” fashion waste, saying big fashion brands are harming the planet by producing “far too many collections with far too many clothes”.

At the opening of the event in Paris, he called the outfits on the runway his “first upcycling haute couture collection” and urged the audience to recycle their clothes.

“In my first show and this, my last, there are creations made with the jeans I’ve worn,” he said.

“It’s the most beautiful of materials. Like a lot of humans, it becomes even more beautiful as it gets older.”

He added: “Goodbye to the spanking new, hello to the spanking old!”

‘Surreal’

Canadian model Coco Rocha tweeted that it was “surreal” that this would be Gaultier’s last show.

American actress and model Kat Graham described him as her “fashion idol”.

“JPG was the first big design house to dress me, to believe in me,” she wrote.

Barcelona Escape Upset As Griezmann’s Double See Off 3rd-tier UD Ibiza

A second half brace from Antoine Griezmann saw Barcelona avoid an upset as they came from a goal down to beat third division side UD Ibiza 2-1, in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

Barcelona who were without Lionel Messi, went behind in the 9th minute as Javi Perez scored.

Every effort by Barcelona to get back into the game proved abortive as UD Ibiza held firm.

But their resolve was eventually broken as Griezmann equalised in the 72nd minute.

And in the 94th minute, Griezmann scored the winner to send Barcelona into the next round.

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Source: Complete Sports