Fans of Sharam Nazeri like to call him "the Persian Nightingale," a reference to the singer's Iranian roots and his intense, cascading voice. Mr. Nazeri is one of Iran's most popular musicians, performing songs that blend traditional Persian music with strong elements of Sufism. "It's kind of like trance music," says Kayhan Kalhor, an Iranian instrumentalist from New York who performs with Nazeri. In Iran, Nazeri is considered a musical idol (he has released more than 50 recordings) and is easily recognizable because of his sweeping, brown mustache and his long hair, which he pulls back into a ponytail. At the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, Nazeri sang in front of an audience of 2,500 that, by the end of the concert, showered him with stand-up applause and shouts of "Bravo, bravo, bravo!" Two women threw bouquets of roses at Nazeri on stage. "I really didn't expect this kind of response from the audience in Fes," Nazeri says. Nazeri was playing the Fes Festival for the first time, and his songs - performed in Farsi and featuring the Sufi poetry of Rumi - may not have been completely understood by the crowd in Morocco. It didn't matter. Like Luciano Pavarotti or Plcido Domingo, Nazeri can keep the audience riveted. Nazeri, who was accompanied in Fes by Mr. Kalhor and three other prominent Iranian musicians, has toured North America and Europe before, and plans to play again in the United States next year.
It hasn't always been easy for Nazeri to give public concerts. In Iran, live music was banned after the 1979 revolution toppled the Shah and brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power. This and other restrictions prompted Kalhor to leave Iran. Nazeri, who is Kurdish and thus part of a minority in Iran, stayed.
Nazeri said it is "excellent" that Mohammad Khatami, a moderate cleric, was elected president last month in Iran. As culture minister from 1982 and 1992, Khatami lifted the ban on live music, which allowed Iranians to hear Nazeri once again in public venues.