Already a Superstar in Iran, 'Persian Elvis' Sets Sights on US

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

In Iran, girls carry his music to school beneath their chadors (the mandatory long black gowns). At night, teenage boys scrawl his name "ANDY!" on public walls, knowing it will be erased the next day by the police. People of all ages gather for private parties and play his pirated tapes as loudly as they dare.

If any of them are caught, they could go to jail. At minimum, the bootlegged copies of his recordings, which are banned in Iran, will be confiscated.

But somehow, his music, an upbeat, danceable combination of traditional Persian sounds and modern rock, is important enough to his countrymen that they will risk the punishment.

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He is, simply, their superstar.

Andranik Madadian, better known to the vast Iranian exile community as Andy, grew up as a Christian Armenian in Muslim Iran. His early musical training was largely from his family's radio. But he was sufficiently skilled to be playing concerts for former American President Jimmy Carter as well as the shah of Iran before the Iranian revolution toppled the regime in 1979.

Andy fled Tehran months before the end of what he calls "the Persian Paris" and emigrated to the United States. He began playing concerts all over the world. Over the past 17 years, he's cultivated a wildly loyal fan base on virtually every continent.

Now, he's looking to conquer the last frontier: the US.

"I think it is time, too, for American music to embrace other influences," he observed recently over an untouched spinach omelet lunch. He sees American musicians turning outward to other musical traditions, such as the Pakistani Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the Algerian Cheb Kahled, both of whom have created successful crossover albums. He adds, "I would like to do a collaboration with the right person."

Beyond his professional goals, Andy would like to see his music bridge the gap between Americans and Iranians.

"The music is not political, it is joyful." He points out that the only music allowed by the current Iranian regime is traditional folk. "That music is very slow and sad. Nobody, not even the older folks like it."

"His music makes me feel good, like I did when I was in a choir," says sheet-metal worker Vincent Trejo of Fremont, Calif. "It's very beautiful music; it relaxes me."

Darya Mirhosseini, another fan, says it's not just that his music is good. "It's all about who he is. All our parents listen to his music, too. He talks about being respectful; he tells us not to smoke or drink or do drugs. All Persians love him."

Robin Godfrey-Cass, who was with EMI Music for 25 years, says, "Andy has a bright future and not just with fellow Iranians, but with the masses." Ms. Godfrey-Cass notes that the musician's timing is good. "Andy's exhausted his own market and needs to expand at just the time that Western musicians are looking for other musical influences."

For his part, Andy says he thinks the music will speak for itself, but a relationship with an American producer or record company would make it more available. "Right now, the only place to buy my albums is the Iranian specialty store. People go in to buy Persian cheese and pick up my album as well."

At the end of lunch, Andy has not touched his food. But he is full, nonetheless. "I am at a turn in the road. I have to go forward," he says.

Then, the man Iranians call "The Persian Elvis" leaves the restaurant unnoticed. If Andy has his wish, that won't happen for long. And now that Iran has elected Mohammed Khatemi, whose policies toward the West are more liberal, it's possible Andy may get his wish of broader exposure both at home and abroad.

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