NBC-LA | Iranian exiles bring countrymen a taste of forbidden music and freedom
Social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter are helping to fuel the pro-democracy demonstrations in the Middle East. But in Iran, there's another source of inspiration for change.
It is coming from Los Angeles, where Iranian artists have turned into rock and roll revolutionaries delivering a message to the young people of Iran.
Andy Madadian is one of the most famous Iranian singers in the world. He moved to Los Angeles 30 years ago and nearly every year since, he and other LA-based Iranian artists have traveled to concert sites along Iran's border in Armenia, Turkey and Dubai to perform music and song that cannot be heard in Tehran.
"The freedom they get by connecting to their artists and their music gives them hope that beyond those borders there is love, there is life, there is freedom," Madadian told NBC LA.
Madadian, who goes by the single name "Andy," has seen how the fans love it. They show up at his concerts by the thousands and throw off their headscarves and inhibitions as they jam with their favorites.
Andy said he is not a political artist and he only sings songs of following your heart and your passions, but he acknowledged that anyone delivering that message might also seem like a threat to the repressive mullahs in Tehran.
"Because we are not good role models for their type of lifestyle," he said.
Another entertainer, Shoh Re says she was a dangerous person.
"Because they say I'm not listening to the regime," she explained. "I'm listening to myself. I am listening to the people."
Shoh Re spoke to NBC LA in a Glendale recording studio. She looks like the Madonna of modern Iran. She is far more confrontational than Andy. Each year, when she travels to the borders of Iran to perform, she delivers a fiery message to the thousands of her fellow countrymen.
"I am singing freedom," she said. "Freedom, Iran. Freedom, young people. Freedom."
Like Andy, Shoh Re was also blacklisted in her homeland. Her friend and producer, Andy G who has arranged many concerts in the borderlands, explained she is all the more threatening because Iranian women are barred from flaunting their sexuality, as she does, or even singing in public.
"Any young female or girl that looks like that artist on stage and goes, 'Wow, I wish I would have been like this as well,'" said Andy G. "You know that's really not a good thing for the regime."
Tara Kangarlou, an Iranian-American journalism student in Los Angeles and an intern at NBC LA, has been to concerts in the borderlands. She believes the Iranian authorities actually favor these concerts as once-a-year escape valves for their repressed citizens.
"The youth have the opportunity to release themselves, release their energy, their anger and their grudges toward their own government and leave it aside," Kangarlou said.
Another student who has been to the concerts believes it can be a life-changing experience for the young people in the audience.
She told NBC LA that the overall experience of traveling somewhere "where they can be free gives (the young people) a better idea of how they want their own country to be."
In 2009 after crushing the post-election demonstrations, the Iranian authorities were confronted with a poignant reminder that the world is watching. It is a widely distributed music video in which Andy is joined by a non-Iranian superstar, Jon Bon Jovi, singing the familiar rock hymn of solidarity "Stand by Me."
This time, Bon Jovi sang part of it in Farsi, which Andy believes had an amazing impact on Iranians inside Iran.
"It sends them a message that we remember you."
TARA KANGARLOU ON NBC-LA