At this point, it's pretty much scripture that music brings people together. It makes new friends, ignites old flames, and addresses elephants in the room. But what happens when that model, that tried-and-true motif, is applied to histories, cultures, and countries? Iranian Dubstep DJ Soltan is asking the question.
My interview with Soltan was characterized by an expected, and yet alarming amount of mediation. We communicated through a translator. He used a proxy to subvert the governmental censorship that reigns over the Iranian Internet.
Most importantly, he kept his identity a secret. The reason, it seems, is one fraught with fear, respect, and national tension. Without reducing Iran to a comparison with Western ideals, it should be noted that acting out in its digital sphere can lead to arrests and interrogations. Both Soltan and his representatives suggested that he felt a threat from the government should he decide to leave Iran. Though he had the opportunity to seek asylum in Turkey and make his way to the U.S., he recoiled for fear that his family would be persecuted. "As paranoid as it is, its founded in reality," Josh "Z" Hernandez, Soltan's manager, noted, "the truth is that the relationship is not the best...There is a fear in this country of the Iranian mindset...we can't ignore the tensions between the countries." "I have a couple of reasons," Soltan responded when I asked why he would pursue this craft if it were such a risk that he had to remain anonymous, "In general I'm very personal and I keep things to myself. What I'm doing in Iran, not so many Iranians are interested. We don't have any clubs or disco in Iran. I want to find fans who enjoy my music and understand it."
Those fans, it seems, lie in the 'Western' world. Clubs across Europe, laptops in the U.S.: "When I met Soltan, he was just being handed around by some minor producers that were taking credit for his work," said Z. "He told me he thought he would never be able to make it to the states, I immediately told him that's not true. There's a million different ways. It's important for you to get out there." And so, the ideological question of music bridging cultures jumped from a theoretical to a practical, political one.
Yet despite these reservations, founded or not, Soltan's growing popularity has necessitated a reconsideration of both his music and his culture from the receiving end. The two are ever-changing in their relationship, demanding respect and curiosity from its listeners. In short, other countries, including the U.S., want him to come play. But for him to agree, there will have to be a potent antidote to the masse view of Iranian peoples in our country. "Now that he's starting to get some positive feed back from the public, he's representing the Iran that he loves, and our culture is affecting that dynamic...He could get an artist's visa, it could affect his family, it's very personal for him."
Yet Soltan's internationally influenced music may be an archetype of cultural acceptance that, even in the smallest way, contributes to deconstructing stereotypes about Iranian peoples in the Western world. "At the end of the day, [he is the] kind of artist that is going to be able to work for a living. He is one of those musicians that is creative a massive library of legacy," Z noted at the end of our follow-up from the interview. And so, it seems it is up to us, and to him, to find out where on the spectrum our cultures collide under the umbrella of music, and embrace that space. Check out his EP here, and keep an eye out for more from this burgeoning international 'legacy.'
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