An Iranian Cultural Icon Comes to Durham

Iranian singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian performs April 28 at the Durham Performing Arts Center

Iranian singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian will perform Saturday, April 28 in Durham
Iranian singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian will perform Saturday, April 28 in Durham

In 2009, Mohammad Reza Shajarian caused a stir when he demanded that the Iranian government no longer play his music on state radio.

Until then, the popular Iranian singer had been a largely non-political presence in his homeland. His demand was an unusual, daring and emphatic statement in support of those protesting the hardline Islamic government. 

His use of the political bully pulpit made him even more popular -- an even louder and more visible voice of the Iranian people.

"It was so brave," recounts Mohsen Kadivar, a religious studies professor at Duke. "He's not a political activist. When he wrote that letter, it was unusual for him. He became the voice of liberty and justice and freedom for Iranians."

On Saturday, April 28, the celebrated singer will perform in Durham, one of just seven stops on his current tour of the United States. His appearance at the Durham Performing Arts Center is sponsored by Duke Performances, which rarely hosts performers in the 2,800-seat venue. Shajarian will perform with the Shahnaz Ensemble, a 17-member group playing traditional Persian instruments.

"We've long known that there's an active, established Persian community in the Triangle who value their culture deeply," says Aaron Greenwald, who directs Duke Performances. "And Shajarian is one of the world's iconic artists because of his vocal virtuosity, his musical sophistication and his place at the intersection of art and world events."

For three decades, Shajarian has been one of Iranian's most popular artists due to his music and its messages, which touch on mysticism, ethics, literature and more. It is music that touches both the common man and the Iranian elite, Kadivar says. 

"For some, it's because he's the best representative of Persian literature; for others, he represents ethical, moral norms," he says. "But it's the music. He's classical and traditional. It's not pop music, but even young people love him."

A two-time Grammy Award nominee, Shajarian has received two UNESCO awards and was featured as one of NPR's "50 Great Voices."

 More information on Shajarian's Durham performance is available at