Shervin Mohajer: Beats. From the album Kohân Kamân (Ancient Bow), Pieces for Kamanche and Alto Kamanche (2015)
We know what it looks like when tourism singles out an Iranian town. In the Kurdish mountain town of Palangan – still unknown abroad, but already swarmed by Iranians – the locals desperately try to protect the dwindling remnants of their private sphere, and they angrily turn away from the tourists who flood the steep streets, pushing cameras in their faces. In the clay town of Yazd in the desert, the traditional shops of the bazaar have been replaced by the souvenir vendors. Even the air is offered for money, and for the first time in ten years of travel in Iran, it happened that they tried to cheat me when settling the accounts in the hotel. We were afraid of these kind of changes in Masouleh, which is much more advanced on the way of becoming a tourist trap.
But it was not to be. The advantage did good Masouleh a good turn. The town has already passed the initial shock and growing pains of tourism. The locals have learned to deal with the new situation, they have found their own place in it, and have succeeded in adjusting it to their daily lives. In the farm houses converted into guest houses, they treat you just as kindly as family guests are elsewhere. In the bazaar, the souvenirs have not pushed out the ancient shops, and the demand has even created a range of modern artisan products. The healthy development of the village is looked after by the “Masooleh Conservation and Sustainable Development Institute”. The old houses are renovated, in a more or less authentic way. Community holidays are still celebrated: the participants are not distracted by the stared and cameras of the tourists, and they even get them involved. We would like to believe that with the gradual opening up of Iran, and the forthcoming tourism boom, this would be the direction taken in developing other settlements exposed to tourism.
The procession stars at the top of the village. In the distance, you can hear the booming of the drums and bits and pieces of singing. In the three-story bazaar on the main square they have already prepared to receive them. Microphone and loudspeakers are placed in the middle, a curious crowd surrounds it, made up of tourists and locals alike. In half an hour, men dressed in black arrive at the bazaar, and they line up on both sides of the corridor. The singer alternates between singing sad rubato funeral melodies, and rhythmic, energetic songs into the microphone. During the former, which are like the old Hungarian folk songs, everyone bows his head, some people cry. In the thousand-and-five-hundred-year-old mourning they relive their own losses. With the latter, they come to life, they beat their breasts on the rhythm of the song, they shout out the name of Imam Hussein, who died in the battle of Kerbala. On the upper level of the bazaar, little boys dressed in black are doing the same with great enthusiasm. The locals suggest we go quietly with our cameras between the rows, it does not disturb the dancers, on the contrary, they hold themselves up as we take close up pictures of them. The ceremony lasts about an hour, then they break. The lines are broken, and are rearranged into chatting groups. As we walk up to our guest house, we hear the singing start again, already from the mosque, where they stay up for the night in memory of Imam Hussein and his martyr companions.