Iran pays homage to universally acclaimed virtuoso Mohammadreza Shajarian. He is one of NPR’s 50 great voices. And Iran inducts the legendary vocalist’s ‘Rabana’ performance into its National Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Shajarian’s son, Homayoun who is also a vocalist, received the registration tablet on behalf of his father who has been fighting kidney cancer since 2014. Rabana is an invocation compiled from four verses of Quran, each starting with the word Rabana, meaning “Our Lord” in Arabic used for start praying and asking God what people are eager to. Recorded a year after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the recitation became an indispensable part of Iranians’ fasting rituals during Ramadan, Iran’s state-run Broadcasting (IRIB) channels aired it at the time of Iftar.
The move by Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (CHTHO) in 2016, sparked speculations that it might have been driven by political motives. A brief review of what Rabana has gone through in the past three decades suggestively approves the theory.
Owners of Shajarian’s songs
Despite a series of lawsuits launched by Shajarian over his rights to works broadcast by IRIB, he has reiterated in his interviews that he considers Iranians as the real owners of Rabana. He insists not having objection to its airing, as the piece was intended for fasters in the first place. However, the broadcasting service implemented a self-imposed ban on Shajarian, following his comments on the disputed presidential election in 2009. Since then, Shajarian’s songs have taken a more political aura for the country’s classical music community and admirers.
Nevertheless, the induction of Rabana into Iran’s National Intangible Cultural Heritage list is a first step by the Iranian administration for the recognition of Iranian classical music. It is comparable to similar initiatives in the world, such as the Musicians Hall of Fame in the United States. Apart from his role in the preservation of Persian music, Shajarian has trained a handful of prominent vocalists. Giants like Shahram Nazeri, Iraj Bastami, Hessamoddin Seraj and his own son Homayoun Shajarian are some of his talented students. Shajarian has swept international awards and distinctions, including the French National Order of Merit, UNESCO Mozart Medal, Golden Picasso Medal.
Shajarian, who was nominated for Grammy Awards 2 times, hasn’t been on stage since his last European tour in 2013. He has been fighting kidney cancer for more than a year. He did not break the news publicly until March 2016 when Iranians were celebrating Nowrouz. Ever since the announcement, he has shied away from public appearances.