Rebel music

An Iranian pop star challenges the regime

Once a favourite of the mullahs, Mehdi Yarrahi’s music is now testing their tolerance

THE POP star Mehdi Yarrahi was once a favourite of Iran’s ayatollahs. In 2017 he won the award for best pop album from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. But now the regime thinks Mr Yarrahi is singing out of tune. In a video for the song “Pare Sang” (Broken Stone), the Arab crooner wears a jacket adorned with military medals—and an armband with a swastika on it. Devastating images appear around him: a man seems to have set himself on fire, buildings collapse and families queue at a dry tap. “Another generation went to war and did not return,” he sings. “I’m the last one of this tribe, a tribe with no food and no water.”

The response to Mr Yarrahi’s work highlights the tension between Iran’s Persian core and its restless ethnic minorities. He is a hero in his home province of Khuzestan, which is mostly Arab and borders Iraq. Three decades on from Iran’s war with Iraq, the region still lies in ruins. The scenes from the video are pulled from its recent history. “The duty of artists is to ask questions and convey the voice of the people to the authorities,” says Mr Yarrahi.