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Various Artists: Persian Funk (Secret Stash)

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Persian Funk? Believe it.

Whatever you may think about Iran under the Shah, there was a period from the 1950s well into the late '70s, after which Ayatollah Khomeini and other Islamic fundamentalists took over, that Iran experienced a cultural opening-up of art, music, film, etc. This era included remarkable opportunities for women in the arts, along with an outpouring of original music; 11 wisely chosen examples from that period are collected by Secret Stash Records on Persian Funk.

We have hard funk with striking traditional string arrangements on "Ghabileye Leyli" by Mehrpouya; dark, psychedelic funk on "Talagh" by Googoosh; Persian psychedelic pop by Kourosh Yaghmaei ("Del Dare Pir Misheh"); sitar-driven funk on "Soul Raga," also by Mehrpouya; big, cinematic Persian soul and funk by Shohreh on "Cheshm Be Rah," and Morteza's amazing, self-titled "Morteza;" driving, sax- and guitar-driven funk on "Hard Groove" by Shamaizadeh; and fine numbers by Martik and Shahram Shabpareh.

Perhaps most remarkable of all, from a cultural standpoint, is the female singer Googoosh lighting up a Persian version of Otis Redding's "Respect." Imagine that happening in 2011.

Beyond being a terrific collection, Persian Funk reminds us that the big-picture history of Persia is that of an ancient, complex and sophisticated people who have had their modern culture largely hijacked by a group of dour, humorless and murderous old men. The Iranian people deserve better leaders, and Persian Funk illustrates what the freeing of the bonds could result in.

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