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Shervin Hajipour won in a new special merit category recognizing a song for social change. The song has become the anthem of protests that have swept through Iran in recent months.
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By Farnaz Fassihi
He was a relatively unknown young pop singer who had been eliminated in the final round of Iran’s version of “American Idol.” Then he wrote a protest song. On Sunday, he won a Grammy Award.
Shervin Hajipour, 25, won in a new special merit category recognizing a song for social change for his hit “Baraye.” The song has become the anthem of protests that have swept through Iran in recent months, evoking grief, anger, hope and a yearning for change.
The first lady of the United States, Jill Biden, introduced the award. “A song can unite, inspire and ultimately change the world,” she said. “Baraye,” she added, was “a powerful and poetic call for freedom and women’s rights” that continues to resonate across the world.
And as Hajipour’s image and song played on two screens, she reiterated the bedrock slogan of Iran’s uprising: “For Women, Life, Freedom.”
“Congratulations Shervin, and thank you for your song,” she said.
Hajipour lives in Iran and did not respond to a request for comment. “We won,” he posted on Instagram after the award was given.
A video circulated on social media that seemed to capture the moment when Mr. Hajipour, surrounded by friends and watching the ceremony on television, heard his name announced as the winner. He appeared stunned as friends screamed, cheered and hugged him.
“My God, my God, I can’t believe it,” said one of his friends, according to the video.
He was arrested by the intelligence ministry shortly after his song went viral in September, generating some 40 million views — close to 87 million people live in Iran — in 48 hours. He is currently out on bail and awaiting trial, and has made only one short video message since his release.
“I wrote this song in solidarity with the people who are critical of the situation like many of our artists who reacted,” said Hajipour in the video message, from early October.
In late September, protests erupted across Iran as tens of thousands of people, led by women and girls, demanded liberation from the Islamic Republic’s theocracy. The protests were set off by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who had been in the custody of the morality police on the allegation of violating hijab rules.
Iranians tweeted their reasons for protesting using the hashtag #baraye (or “#for”). Hajipour wove those tweets into lyrics, naming his song after the hashtag. He composed and recorded the song from his bedroom in his parents’ house in the coastal city of Babolsar.
As Iranians shared the reasons they were protesting via tweets, Hajipour wove some of them into his verses:
“For embarrassment due to being penniless; For yearning for an ordinary life; For the child laborer and his dreams; For this dictatorial economy; For this polluted air; For this forced paradise; For jailed intellectuals; For all the empty slogans”
For the past five months, everywhere Iranians congregated inside and outside the country, be it protests, funerals, celebrations, hikes, concerts, malls, cafes, university campuses, high schools or traffic jams, they blasted the song and sang the lyrics in unison:
“For the feeling of peace; For the sunrise after long dark nights; For the stress and insomnia pills; For man, motherland, prosperity; For the girl who wished she was born a boy; For woman, life, freedom…For Freedom.”
The Grammy will raise the song’s profile even more.
“‘Baraye’ winning a Grammy sends the message to Iranians that the world has heard them and is acknowledging their freedom struggle,” said Nahid Siamdoust, the author of “Soundtrack of the Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran.” “It is awarding their protest anthem with the highest musical honor.”
Siamdoust, who is also an assistant professor of media and Middle East studies at the University of Texas at Austin, said that while music has played an important political role in Iran since the constitutional revolution a century ago, no song compared to “Baraye” in terms of reach and impact. “Music can travel and traverse homes and communities and spread sentiment in a way that few other means can achieve,” she said.
In a 2019 documentary short about his musical journey that recently aired on BBC Persian, Mr. Hajipour said that he began training as a classical violinist at the age of 8, started composing music at 12. He also said he has a college degree in economics but works as a professional musician, composing music for clients and recording his own songs.
He said that his passion was creating music that broke form and that he drew inspiration from the pain and suffering he experienced and witnessed.
“My biggest pain and my biggest problems have turned into my best work. And they will do so in the future as well,” he said in the documentary in what turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
While Hajipour was in detention, “Baraye” disappeared from his Instagram page. Iranians mobilized, posting and reposting the song. “For Shervin” trended on Twitter with demands of his release.
“Shervin is an extremely talented, innocent and shy young man,” said a prominent Iranian singer, Mohammad Esfahani, who had met him when he was a contestant on the television show.
The Recording Academy said it was “deeply moved” by the overwhelming number of submissions for “Baraye,” which received over 95,000 of the 115,000 submissions for the new category. The award was proposed by academy members and determined by the Grammys’ blue ribbon committee, a panel of music experts, and ratified by the Recording Academy’s board of trustees.
“Baraye” became the vehicle through which people around the world displayed their solidarity to Iranians. Scores of musicians have covered the song, including Coldplay and Jon Batiste. The German electronic artist Jan Blomqvist remixed it as a dance tune. The designer Jean Paul Gaultier used it as a soundtrack as models walked the runway last month at his show during Paris fashion week, and Malala Yousafzai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, played it in the background in a message to the girls and women of Iran.
The lyrics have been translated and performed in various genres: jazz and opera in English, metal in Germany, choir by French school children and pop in Swedish among others. It has also inspired a number of dance performances, including in Israel. Some artists around the world have covered it verbatim in Persian, including one in Ukraine who said she sang it to highlight the plight of the Iranian people.
Hajipour’s Grammy win stirred pride among many Iranians online after the award was announced.
“God, I am crying from joy,” a Twitter user named Melody posted about Hajipour’s victory.
“A song about the most basic rights of a human, the most simple wishes of an Iranian,” an Iranian journalist, Farzad Nikghadam, tweeted. “A nation crying for gender equality and freedom.”
In the documentary, Hajipour spoke about the importance of music. “The biggest miracle in my life has been music,” he said. “I would like to be successful and to be able to make a living with music that comes from my heart.”
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