Googoosh is one of the most celebrated and influential Iranian pop artists of all time: a national treasure to generations of Iranians, and hugely popular in Central Asia and the Middle East.
Googoosh is marking this holiday season with a concert in Sweden: Gothenburg (December 22), and two concerts in Germany: Dusseldorf (December 23) and Hamburg (December 30). As she embarks on her concert tour, Kayhan Life looks back at her life and career.
Googoosh was once described as “the diva assoluta [supreme] of Iranian variety” by the authoritative French newspaper Le Monde. “She is to Iranians what Johnny Hallyday is to France: a national monument,” wrote Le Monde. “People come to see her to remember their youth or relive that of their parents, to be part of a moment in history and step into a time machine.”
She was born Faegheh Atashin in Tehran on May 5, 1950. Her father Saber Atashin was an Iranian Azeri, and her mother Nasrin, an émigrée from Soviet Azerbaijan. She was named Faegheh after a clerk at the civil registry refused the name given to her by her father, Googoosh, which is an Armenian boy’s name.
Her parents divorced when she was two, and her father was awarded full custody of the child. Saber, who was an actor and acrobat, took Googoosh on the road, performing in towns and cities around the country, and using her as part of one of his own acrobatic acts. Soon recognizing her natural gift for singing and for impersonating well-known singers such as Delkash and Pouran, he put her on stage.
Her talent quickly eclipsed his own, as she drew enthusiastic crowds wherever they went. Googoosh became a paid performer from the age of four, and the family breadwinner.
She sang regularly in public, putting her own stamp on the songs of such established singers as Ghazal, Delkash, Elaheh and others. People from all over the country came to the ‘Shokoufeh Now’ cabaret in Tehran to see the child prodigy.
By the age of seven, she began her acting career in Bim va Omid (“Hope and Fear,” 1960) and Fereshteh Farari (“The Runaway Angel,” 1961), both written and directed by George [Gorgi] Obadiah. Being a professional performer from such an early age meant that she was unable to pursue an education, leaving school after her primary years.
Googoosh never got a chance to live with her mother, who remarried and was unable to see her until she was 13. Even then, they met secretly. She had a brother who was a year younger, and who would die at the age of 24, struck down by heart rheumatism.
Her father also remarried. Little Googoosh grew up with an abusive stepmother who put her in charge of raising one of her half-brothers – even as she was earning money for the family. Those were excruciatingly difficult years for the young girl, and she married at the age of 17 to break away from her painful home life.
When Le Monde asked her which artist she felt close to, she replied without hesitation: “Michael Jackson! He started very young. He had great talent. He could sing, dance and lead choreographies. He too had an unhappy childhood and life.”
By the 1960s, Googoosh was recording with Iran’s finest composers, releasing Ghesseyeh Vafa in 1966, the first of many compositions written for her by Parviz Maghsadi (with lyrics by Iraj Janatie Ataie). This would mark the beginning of a phenomenally successful career.
She would go on to become a household name, and the glamorous face of Iranian pop. Her trendsetting hairstyles and fashion choices would soon be closely followed by a generation of Iranian women, who wore miniskirts when she did, and got a boyish “Googooshi” haircut as she did in 1975.
Googoosh would dominate Iranian popular music until the Islamic Revolution of 1979, combining elements of Iran’s traditionally melodramatic singing style with musical techniques drawn from soul, funk, rock and other forms of popular Western music. “She was the biggest celebrity of 1970s Iran,” wrote the historian and author Abbas Milani in his book, Eminent Persians.
The iconic singer recorded songs in Persian, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Tajik, Arabic, English, French, Italian and Spanish, reaching new audiences outside Iran and Azerbaijan. Her popularity eventually extended to many Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries, and even to North Africa.
In 1971, she had a month-long sellout run at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. She won an award the same year at the Midem (Marché International du Disque et de l’Edition Musicale) music festival in Cannes, took part in Italy’s famous Sanremo Music Festival in 1973, and was the only Iranian artist to sign a record label with Barclay in France and RCA in Italy. She performed with such artists as Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Charles Aznavour, Sylvie Vartan, Sacha Distel, Romina Power, Julien Clerc, Patty Pravo, Emel Sayin and Ajda Pekkan.
In parallel, the pop icon pursued a movie career until just before the Iranian Revolution, starring in a total of 25 films. They included Partgahe Makhouf (“Cliff of Fear,” 1963), Sheitune Bala (“The Naughty One,” 1965), and Bita (1972), for which she received a Sepas Award in 1973.
Googoosh would also be the female lead in Mah-e Asal (“Honeymoon,” 1976), Hamsafar (“Fellow Traveler,” 1975) and Mamal Amricayi (1975) with her second husband, Behrouz Vossoughi, the most popular male actor of his time.
Her movie Dar Emtedadeh Shab (“Along the Night,” 1978), written and directed by Parviz Sayyad – with Saeed Kangarani in the lead male role – was released months before the Iranian Revolution. It would be one of the most successful Iranian motion pictures of all time.
Googoosh was married four times. In 1967, she was wedded to the music promoter and owner of Tehran’s ‘Miami’ nightclub, Mahmoud Ghorbani, with whom she had a son, Kambiz. They would divorce six years later, in 1972. Googoosh would move on to another short-lived marriage with the Iranian superstar actor Behrouz Vossoughi in 1975.
Film from Manchester, England, ’60s rock band “Oscar,” who met Googoosh and her husband Mahmoud Ghorbani in Tehran in ’68-’69.
She married her third husband, Homayoun Mestaghi, just before the Revolution; the couple separated 12 years later. Her fourth husband Masoud Kimiai, whom she married in 1991, was a renowned movie director and part of the new wave of Iranian cinema. They divorced in 2003, after Googoosh left Iran.
Googoosh was in the U.S. in 1979 when the Iranian Revolution broke out. She decided to return to Iran. “They claimed that I worked for the SAVAK (the prerevolutionary secret police) and that I would be killed. I thought that if that was the case, I preferred it to happen in Iran,” she told Le Monde.
After her return, she was summoned for questioning four times by the Revolutionary Court, and imprisoned for a month at the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980. She was banned from the stage, and distanced herself from music and from all public activities, leading a reclusive life for the next 21 years. Yet her music was never forgotten, and a black market in illicitly-produced Googoosh recordings flourished in Iran.
In 2000, during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, Googoosh was granted permission to leave the country and accompany her husband, Masoud Kimiai, to Canada on a film project. Plans for a comeback tour were made right way. That tour would take the Iranian diva from Canada to the U.S., Germany, the U.K., Sweden, France, Austria and the UAE.
Googoosh was subsequently ordered by the authorities not to return to Iran, and has been living in exile ever since.
The diva’s comeback tour would be the first of many world tours taking her to North America, Europe, the UAE, Australia, Malaysia, Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan, North Cyprus, Georgia and Armenia. She performed in such prestigious venues as New York’s Madison Square Garden (2006) and London’s Royal Albert Hall (2013).
Googoosh was also in the spotlight for her talent show, Googoosh Music Academy, which aired for three seasons starting in 2010 on the London-based satellite channel Manoto1. Secretly watched by millions in Iran, it became an instant hit, and a hot topic of conversation.
In 2014, the superstar was voted Best Iranian Female Artist at the World Music Awards.
In 2009, following Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in Iran’s presidential elections, Googoosh rallied outside the United Nations in New York for the release of political prisoners held by the Islamic Republic. In 2014, she made headlines again by speaking out against homophobia in Iran and backing the LGBT community. The video of her song Behesht (“Heaven”), written and directed by Navid Akhavan, portrays a young woman as seen through the eyes of her female lover, a relationship that’s frowned upon by her father and by society.
Googoosh has released seven albums since her comeback in 2000. They include Zartosht (“Zoroaster,” 2000), Akharin Khabar (“Latest News,” 2004), Manifest (2006), Shab-e Sepid (“White Night,” 2008), Hajm-e Sabz (“Green Volume”), E’jaz (“Miracle,” 2012), and Akse Khosoosi (“Private Portrait,” 2015).
Today she is preparing a new album, to be recorded in Paris, and due for release next year.