Those of us who crave new culture and new experiences usually look to the Education Abroad Program or study abroad programs to flee the bland office buildings of Irvine and immerse ourselves in Chinese, British or Russian life. However, in a rare opportunity, a little bit of Iranian culture came to UC Irvine last Friday. The Iranian Student Union’s (ISU) second annual Culture Show filled most of Crystal Cove last Friday night and stirred its audience with native music, singing, fashion and comedy.
The event opened with the Iranian national anthem. Afterward, a comedian named Tehran, a half-black, half-Iranian man dressed in jeans, sneakers and a loose blue sweater with his name printed on it, walked onstage and immediately began asking the audience what their nationalities were before delivering a good-humored joke.
“How about Americans? Remember when America used to be full of just Americans?” he quipped. “Are there any Persians in the house? Yeah, I know. Out front I saw a Mercedes, then a BMW, a Mercedes, then a BMW. Do you guys even know we’re in a recession?”
To exemplify the good nature of the jokes, Tehran continued, “My dad named me Tehran because he wanted to see how many times I could get pulled over in a day.”
Later, a pair of ISU members took the stage and played the sitar, a mandolin-like instrument with two bodies instead of one, and another person played the santour, an instrument much like a high-pitched xylophone. The santourist and the sitarist first played a soothing tune separately, a song called “Bandari.” When they played together, the music took on an eerie, laid-back if joyful tone.
After the musicians left the stage, a group of ISU girls came dressed in black leotards and Kurdish skirts. They eased into a leisurely upbeat dance that involved much hand movement. The latter half of the dance included a lot of lively movements, such as hip-shaking and rhythmic stepping in symmetrical choreography.
A group of ISU actors took the stage next to perform a comedic play poking fun at arranged marriages. The play featured an argumentative old Iranian couple, a newlywed couple, a single woman named Miriam and another couple, the husband of which had a habit of yelling passionately in Farsi whenever he spoke, drawing much laughter from the crowd.
In the play, the elderly woman brings everyone to Iran to find a husband for Miriam before she gets too old and is forced to live with her parents, or as the elderly woman put it, “before her eggs rot,” Focusing on the fact that arranged marriages don’t work, the play ultimately conveyed that love will take its own course.
Tehran came onstage to introduce the next group. Before doing so, though, he poked more fun at Iranian culture.
“My dad tries to make everything Iranian. He still thinks Obama is Iranian,” he said, and then continued in a deep, mocking voice, “Hussein! Hussein!”
Next, an ISU member brought out an electric piano, playing a slow and mournful tune as he sang along in Farsi. He was then followed by a male/female duo who played a song called “Googosh,” a song involving a soft rhythm on the guitar and gentle singing with a powerful voice on the part of the female.
Tehran retook the stage afterward and offered a few more jokes.
“Iranian parents love their kids, but they act like they don’t,” he said to many audience members’ laughter. “American parents don’t love their kids, but they act like they do. Once the kid hits 18, they’re like, ‘Get out! It’s time for us to party!’ ”
When Tehran left, he was followed by a group of ISU men and women dressed in fedoras, ties, scarves, untucked dress shirts and slacks. The group performed “Baba karam,” a drunken, methodical dance in which the men and women dance respectively as if in conversation at an Iranian party. Once the men left the stage, more women took their place, at which point the dance sobered up and the women’s movements became sharper, quicker and more symmetrical.
Once they were done, a group of four ISU men, two of them toting acoustic guitars, came on stage. The group, named “Bijan Ali,” performed a new-age Persian song of their own, a slow, jazzy, soulful song in the feel of soft rock with intermittent rap-flavored Farsi lyrics. One of the singers remained very relaxed throughout the song while the other became more and more emotional and forceful in his movements, and more tormented in his lyrics until at one point he dropped the microphone and began shouting mournfully and bitterly to hoots and applause from the audience. The effect was pleasantly disturbing and extremely well-deserved on the band’s part.
The closing act involved a group of ISU women dressed in Kurdish sequined dresses performing an unnamed Kurdish dance. The energetic music smacked of Celtic riverdance, a feeling which was underlined by the wide variety of low, quick kicking, skipping and hopping in the women’s dancing.
Much of the culture show was performed in Farsi, making it difficult for those unversed in the language or Iranian culture to understand the humor of the culture. Despite that, however, the show was still a rich and authentic one and made for a thoroughly entertaining new experience. The ISU’s Culture Show is one that should not be missed if your cultural palette is in the way of Middle Eastern flavors.