Silent no longer

Published August 22nd, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

To tears and shouts of joy, Googoosh, one of Iran's most beloved entertainers, brought the songs and memories of her country before the Islamic revolution to the largest Iranian exile community in America.  

Googoosh's three-hour show Saturday night to a sold-out crowd of 15,000 was her first in the United States since she broke two decades of silence.  

A cultural icon in Iran in the 1960s and 1970s, Googoosh was forced to end her acting and singing career after the 1979 revolution and lived an isolated life in a Tehran apartment. The hiatus was interrupted only when a more moderate government under President Mohammad Khatami, elected in 1997, allowed her to travel abroad again.  

Her tour, which began in Toronto last month, has electrified Iranians abroad and reflects the small but influential changes inside Iran and in the country's relations with the United States. It was especially meaningful in Los Angeles, whose huge Iranian community has led some to nickname the city "Tehrangeles."  

"Her music is like going back to Iran," said Mahmoud Shariati, 32.  

"The music is soulful and romantic," added Asal Sepassi, a 20-year-old student. "It's not the Iran we're raised with. It's what Iran really is, this huge history of romance and poetry. She's connected to all that."  

Stepping on a stage bathed in green, red and white -- the colors of Iran's flag Googoosh placed her hand over her heart.  

"Hello to all the people of Iran," she said. "I am so excited."  

Her songs electrified a crowd that, in turn, wept, jumped to its feet, clapped, danced wildly and chanted her name.  

Googoosh's popularity may be difficult for some Westerners to understand.  

Her fans in the United States -- some born after the 1979 revolution but raised on her bootleg cassettes -- compare her to Madonna, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.  

Her fashions, inspired by her trips to the West, set trends in prerevolutionary Iran. Her haircuts were widely imitated, and Googoosh's pictures in magazines were the stuff of young girls' scrapbooks.  

To this day, her music and soaring voice can be heard from the stereos of cars tied up in the traffic jams that snarl Tehran's streets.  

Googoosh was in the United States when the shah was overthrown. Despite the personal risk -- her lifestyle embodied much of what the Islamic Republic intended to wipe out -- she returned a few months later to Tehran.  

Her passport was confiscated and, under a regime that banned women from singing or dancing before audiences that included men, she stopped her public performances with her popularity undiminished-AP  

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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