Various Artists: Persian Funk (Secret Stash) 

Persian Funk? Believe it.

Whatever you may think about Iran under the Shah, there was a period from the 1950s well into the late '70s, after which Ayatollah Khomeini and other Islamic fundamentalists took over, that Iran experienced a cultural opening-up of art, music, film, etc. This era included remarkable opportunities for women in the arts, along with an outpouring of original music; 11 wisely chosen examples from that period are collected by Secret Stash Records on Persian Funk.

We have hard funk with striking traditional string arrangements on "Ghabileye Leyli" by Mehrpouya; dark, psychedelic funk on "Talagh" by Googoosh; Persian psychedelic pop by Kourosh Yaghmaei ("Del Dare Pir Misheh"); sitar-driven funk on "Soul Raga," also by Mehrpouya; big, cinematic Persian soul and funk by Shohreh on "Cheshm Be Rah," and Morteza's amazing, self-titled "Morteza;" driving, sax- and guitar-driven funk on "Hard Groove" by Shamaizadeh; and fine numbers by Martik and Shahram Shabpareh.

Perhaps most remarkable of all, from a cultural standpoint, is the female singer Googoosh lighting up a Persian version of Otis Redding's "Respect." Imagine that happening in 2011.

Beyond being a terrific collection, Persian Funk reminds us that the big-picture history of Persia is that of an ancient, complex and sophisticated people who have had their modern culture largely hijacked by a group of dour, humorless and murderous old men. The Iranian people deserve better leaders, and Persian Funk illustrates what the freeing of the bonds could result in.

More by Carl Hanni

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