By Mani Tehrani
Abjeez is a Swedish pop band founded in 2005 by the Iranian-born sisters Melody and Safoura Safavi. The band has enjoyed sold-out performances in Europe and North America, and its name derives from the colloquial Persian word for ‘sisters.’
Songs are written in Farsi by Melody, who lives in New York. Safoura, who studied theater and music, is the composer, lead singer and guitarist. The sisters grew up in Sweden. Kayhan Life recently interviewed them.
How did you develop your musical style?
Safoura: Our music is born out of our internal struggle. We are citizens of the world. We have Iranian and Swedish citizenship. This is reflected in our music.
We also wanted to do something new and different. When we started, Iranian music wasn’t as varied as it is now. For our first album, I wrote songs in a wide range of styles. I wanted to reach audiences with different tastes in music. We wanted to create Farsi reggae and club music.
Don’t you face competition with such a wide variety of music out on the market?
Safoura: We promote our culture and are proud of Iranian pop music. The music market has its own peculiar problems which are universal, and not limited to Iranian songs.
It has been suggested that your music is corrupted by too much politics, and that you use feminism as a tool to gain fame. How do you respond to these criticisms?
Safoura: There is no such thing as pure and incorruptible art. Art is a form of human expression. We use various artistic means to express ourselves, and take a serious look at our society.
Politics has always played a major role in Iranian society. We cannot detach ourselves from these concerns. Ultimately, we are artists and not politicians. Also, we’ve never adopted any political stance or social cause as a way to achieve fame.
Melody: I am a feminist, but didn’t consider myself one until recently.
After the release of our first album, we were bombarded with questions about our feminist views. They boxed us in as a feminist group whose music was only about women’s issues. That was never our intention. We are two women expressing our views on issues we face every day.
Our early work dates back to the late 1990s. In the beginning, we tried to stay away from politics. Our first political song was entitled “DemoKracy,” which resulted in some personal difficulty for me.
Abjeez’s music addresses whatever concerns my sister and I at any point in time – views and sentiments we’d like to express ourselves.
It is obvious that performing plays a major role in conveying your message. How does this impact your concerts and music videos?
Melody: We are very particular about our videos. We are an independent group and have no financial backing. We have limited resources for producing our videos. That’s why we are not able to do everything we want to do. We do the best we can. We’ll be producing two new videos soon.
Live performance is our strength. We always attract more fans after a live performance. That’s why we spend a lot of time planning every technical aspect of our concerts. We also improvise during the actual performance.
You have a song entitled “Stadium” in your new album. Tell us about it. Also where do you think Iranian women get their courage to defy the authorities and attend football matches?
Safoura: Courage is a natural response to oppression.
Melody: Courage stems from intelligence. Our society is becoming progressively more intelligent. We produced a few pieces in support of the Iranian national football team a few years ago. A relative of one of the football players contacted us, suggesting we write a piece about the incident. I wrote this song two years ago.
Safoura: The Iranian regime is apprehensive about allowing women into sports stadiums, because we are very strong as a group. That’s why they try to divide us along racial, ethnic, gender and religious lines.
Has the vast distance between Sweden and Iran impacted your work, or has technology made geography irrelevant?
Safoura: It takes us longer to produce our work. It took us a whole year to produce our latest album “Paa Sho” [Get Up.] I went to the U.S. where Melody and I worked on the songs and music for a month. We were able to exchange ideas and be more creative.
How do you create your music?
Safoura: We write the song first then compose the music. My sister works faster than me. Melody’s songs are independent and powerful. I need to compose the music around the song. The arrangements are complex and complicated. Our aim is to make our music palatable to both Iranian and Western taste buds.
Melody: My poetry just comes to me. I write about whatever affects me.
Your new album includes a bold song entitled “Rakht” [Clothe.] There are not many poets who write such songs.
Melody: I was depressed at the time and didn’t feel like washing my laundry. But I had to do it because I had no clean clothes, not even a pair of socks. Then I realized that human beings had to do so much in order to survive. My argument was that before addressing big issues, we need to attend to our most basic needs.
What is your main market? How do you generate income?
Melody: We have no sponsors. Our income comes from live concerts and the sale of our CDs. From time to time, we receive some help from our fans. We would have worked more and harder if we had strong financial backing.