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Iranian Maestro Blasts Artists Serving Politics

Iran -- Mohammad Reza Shajarian

Artists at the "service of politics" are "despicable and untalented" individuals longing for power, the master of classical Iranian music Mohammad Reza Shajarian recently claimed.

In an interview conducted several years ago, but published by pro-reform daily Sharq (Orient) Wednesday, Shajarian also stressed the "importance of artists' duty," saying that artists serve in "solidarity with the people," and "seeking justice in confrontation with politics."

Currently one of the most famous Iranian singers, the eighty-year-old maestro is receiving treatment for advanced cancer.

In the interview, published on his 80th birthday, Shajarian lamented that politics not only dominate artists' lives, but have also infiltrated all aspects of citizens' social lives.

"Everything has been politicized in Iran," Shajarian said. "Even if there is a protest against the [quality of] flour in a bakery, they describe it as a political activity."

"The government must understand that it has no right to interfere in people's affairs," he added. "It is a mistake to involve politics with all aspects of the people's lives ... Why should politics interfere in the lives of the people in a challenging way that requires confrontation between the society and artists on the one hand, and politics (politicians) on the other?"

Since long-lasting anti-establishment protests in 2009, Shajarian has been targeted by state censorship and fundamentalist allies of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

At the time, Shajarian wrote a letter to the head of monopolized state-run Radio and Television Organization requesting him not to broadcast his celebrated songs, including "Iran, Ay Sara-yeh Omid!" (Oh, the House of Hope, Iran!) as not to have his work used for political means to suppress protests.

Responding to the request, the organization banned all his works and stopped broadcasting them altogether.

For some three decades, Iranians used to look forward to hearing the prayer during Ramadan. For those who were fasting, his most popular song, "Rabbana," signaled the time to break their day-long fast and begin the iftar.

Many Iranians, including some fundamentalists, still say they miss Shajarian's "divine" Rabbana prayer during Ramadan.

"It has such power, and the power of it has virtually nothing to do with the words," Iranian American scholar, Abbas Milani, told NPR in September 2010.

"When I still hear it, I get a chill to my bone and think that this is not the voice of a mere mortal — this is the gods speaking to us," Milani said.

In 1999, UNESCO presented Shajarian with the Picasso Award, endowing him in 2006 with the UNESCO Mozart Medal.

In March 2016, Shajarian revealed that he had battked kidney cancer for the past fifteen years.

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