Iranian Singer Googoosh Performs To Remind Iranians About Their Culture Known as "The Voice of Iran," Googoosh was silenced by the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Active again since 2000, she uses music to keep Iranians forced to leave the country in touch with their culture.

Iranian Singer Googoosh Raises Her Voice To Keep Her Nation's Culture Alive

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Singer Googoosh has been called the voice of Iran. But in 1979, her voice was silenced by the Islamic Revolution. This year, she's celebrating 21 years since she broke that silence with a new record and a tour of North America. Betto Arcos spoke to the singer and has this profile.

BETTO ARCOS, BYLINE: A few days before the start of her North American tour, Googoosh says there's one reason she wants to continue singing in Farsi for the young generation.

GOOGOOSH: Because I love my country.

ARCOS: For Iranians forced to leave their country, she's a symbol of home.

GOOGOOSH: And children are growing up as non-Iranian, but I'm trying to remind them.

ARCOS: Googoosh says the younger generation of Iranians whose parents were forced to live outside of Iran are forgetting their language. She says her songs can help them regain it.


GOOGOOSH: (Singing in Farsi).

ARCOS: Born Faegheh Atashin in Tehran in 1950, Googoosh started performing when she was 3 years old with her father, who was an acrobat working in a nightclub. She began singing by imitating songs of famous artists.

GOOGOOSH: And when my father noticed that I have this talent - I mean, he found my talent, and he made me sing in front of people.

ARCOS: At age 9, Googoosh made her debut in the 1959 film "Fear And Hope."


ARCOS: In this scene, she strumming a toy instrument singing Peggy Lee's "Johnny Guitar."


GOOGOOSH: (As character, singing) Johnny Guitar, play it again. Play it again, Johnny Guitar.

ARCOS: As a teen growing up in Tehran, Googoosh absorbed all the pop music coming from the West. In the late 1960s, she covered one of Aretha Franklin's hits, "Respect."


GOOGOOSH: (Singing) What you want, baby I got it. What you need, you know I got it. All I'm asking is for a little respect when you get home, baby, when you get home.

ARCOS: She says Western music had a major influence on her career path.

GOOGOOSH: That's why I chose the way I wanted to sing. It was not traditional. It was not old songs - the style, I mean. I knew that I want to be different.

ARCOS: Her career took off in the early 1970s with songs such as "Gharibe Ashena," or "Familiar Stranger." The lyrics say, familiar stranger, I love you. Come, take me with you to the city of fairy tales. Hold my hand in your hands.


GOOGOOSH: (Singing in Farsi).

ARCOS: In the mid-1970s, Googoosh recorded the theme song of a popular Iranian TV series called "Divorce." The lyrics say, hear me, my travelling companion. Together, we traveled on the road to agony. Together, we cried through this journey. We suffered in the silence of our crying. We made a story out of the bitter passage of time.


GOOGOOSH: (Singing in Farsi).

ARCOS: But her career came to a halt in 1979 when the revolution overthrew the Shah of Iran, and the new government declared the country an Islamic Republic. During that time, Googoosh was in Los Angeles

GOOGOOSH: After a few months. I had to go back to my country because I couldn't stay here. I didn't have anything, and I couldn't work.

ARCOS: Googoosh went back to Iran, where the government forced her to stop singing. She was forbidden from participating in any type of public gathering.

GOOGOOSH: They tried hard to erase me - I mean, erase my name, erase my position, erase my songs, erase my face, erase the memory of me. But they couldn't.

ARCOS: At the peak of her career, she was forced to live in silence for 21 years. Then, in July of 2000, the government granted her permission to visit her family in Los Angeles, and she left.


GOOGOOSH: (Singing in Farsi).

ARCOS: Her first stop was in Toronto. At the Air Canada Centre Arena, 18,000 fans waited for her return with open arms. Reminiscing about that auspicious day when she returned to the stage, Googoosh tears up.

GOOGOOSH: I was, I mean, speechless. And I had fear. I didn't know if I can take care of these people, you know? But it happened.

THOMAS LAUDERDALE: So in the world, there are these singers - people like Fairuz, Edith Piaf, Chavela Vargas, in this country, Billie Holiday or Nina Simone - who represent and are the voice of the people. They transcend politics. They transcend religion. They transcend all of these constructs.

ARCOS: Pianist Thomas Lauderdale is the founder and artistic director of the band Pink Martini. Lauderdale is collaborating with Googoosh on a forthcoming album. He says, for the people of Iran, wherever they live, the voice of Googoosh is everything.

LAUDERDALE: So when my friend Fahti Yamin from Portland, Ore., who I met 30 years ago and introduced me to the music of Ms. Googoosh - when I brought Fahti to meet Ms. Googoosh here in Los Angeles, she broke down in tears because it was just such an overwhelming emotional experience to meet the voice of Iran.


GOOGOOSH: (Singing in Farsi).

ARCOS: At her first concert of the Twenty-One World Tour, in San Jose, Calif., more than 2,000 fans listened and sang along to dozens of her hits.


GOOGOOSH: (Singing in Farsi).

ARCOS: Thirty-year-old Sheyda lives in Cupertino. She says she's been listening to Googoosh since the day she was born.

SHEYDA: When I miss home, I listen to Googoosh because it reminds me of my parents and the time we have together, you know? Not only my parents - my friends, the whole country.

ARCOS: When asked if she hopes things will change in Iran, Googoosh turns to the recent events in Afghanistan.

GOOGOOSH: With this position America made in Afghanistan make difficult for us.

ARCOS: Googoosh says what's happening right now in Afghanistan is what happened to Iran in 1979. She says it's heartbreaking, and she's worried how it might affect the people of Iran. Still, Googoosh says she will continue to sing and give hope to Iranians around the world. For NPR News, I'm Betto Arcos.


GOOGOOSH: (Singing in Farsi).

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