Liraz Charhi created the album by using encrypted instant-messaging apps and by wiring money through third countries. (Record cover)

By Oliver Holmes

October 17, 2020

An Israeli singer of Persian heritage is set to release an album she made by working in secret with Iranian musicians, her long-held aspiration for artistic collaboration despite bitter animosity between the two states.

Using encrypted instant-messaging apps like Telegram and by wiring money through third countries, such as the UK and Turkey, Liraz Charhi said she spent months of sleepless nights fearing those who associated would be in danger.

“Technically, it was very difficult” Charhi, 42, said in an interview. “But emotionally, it was much more difficult. I felt night after night that I was doing a bad thing and these people could be arrested.”

The two countries consider each other arch-enemies, clashing at times in recent years, and both governments have arrested people on charges of spying. In May, Iran’s parliament passed a law criminalising different types of cooperation with Israel, including using Israeli software.

Meanwhile, Israel has supported severe US sanctions on Iran that have been blamed for crippling its economy – a policy Charhi condemns even though she is deeply critical of the country’s leadership. “I don’t agree with anything that comes with seeing Iran as our enemy, because I don’t live like that. I do the opposite.”

Charhi, who is also an actress, knows too well how this hostility dominates the narrative of Iran and Israel. In her most recent screen performance, an Israeli-made thriller series called “Tehran” out this month on Apple TV+, she plays a Mossad spy.

She hopes her second Farsi-language album, Zan (meaning “women”), will present a rare sense of unity as it was made with Israelis and Iranians. Released by Glitterbeat Records and out on 13 November, the album is filled with electro-dance tracks that revive and remix a 1970s era remembered for a lively Iranian pop scene.

Music video for Injah

Her parents emigrated to Israel before the end of 1970, at a time when the countries had close ties, including direct flights and strong trade, and around a decade ahead of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the last Shah of Iran.

“My parents kinda or struggled to be Israeli while they put their roots behind them. They kept acting Iranian,” she said. “For me, it put a big hole in my heart – a big question mark. Who am I? Where did I come from?”

Growing up speaking Hebrew in school and Farsi at home, Charhi learned about a mid-20th century Iran from her parent’s songs and stories. However, it was only once she moved to Los Angeles as an actor that she learned from the huge American-Iranian community about Iranian culture from the 1970s.

“I recognised something different in the women singers voices. Full of courage, much more feisty,” she said. Both her albums are deeply influenced by this time – a period after her parents had left but before the revolution.

Her first album was named “Naz”, a rebellious soundtrack filled with songs toying with the Farsi expression for “being polite, being a good girl”. The album became a minor hit in Iran, with Charhi seeing videos on social media of Iranian women bopping to her songs. For her next album, she had more ambitious plans.

After contacting several Iranian artists online – singers, composers, players of tradition bağlama stringed instruments – many were excited to collaborate, although some asked not to use their real names. Others expressed initial interest, only to disappear after a couple of months, changing their social media accounts.

One Iranian composer who wrote and sang for tracks in the album said he first heard Charhi’s voice in her Instagram videos. “It shocked me, a girl from Israel with Persian roots … a lot of emotions, energy from her voice and eyes,” said Raman Loveworld, asking to use only his artistic name.

“I know it is dangerous to work on this project,” he said. “But we are just normal people.”

Charhi has never visited the country her parents were born in but managed to meet some of the Iranian artists she worked with when they made trips to Europe. “Wow, that was crazy,” she said.

“My biggest dream was to write Iranian music with Iranians,” she added. “Mission accomplished.”

The Guardian

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.