DUBAI (Reuters) - Mohammad Reza Shajarian, who revived Iranian classical music and became a symbol for the opposition after a wave of unrest in 2009, has died in a Tehran hospital at the age of 80, state television said on Thursday.
Fans gathered outside the hospital in the capital Tehran where Shajarian died following a long battle with cancer. Videos on social media later showed the gathering turn into street protests as police moved in to disperse the crowd.
A classical Iranian composer and singer, Shajarian tried to stay out of politics even though he initially sang in support of the movement that toppled the country’s last monarch in 1979 and ushered in the Islamic Republic.
But in 2009, when the government cracked down violently on protests against the disputed election that gave a second term to hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Shajarian demanded that state media refrain from playing his music.
Shajarian called on authorities to lay down their guns and talk and listen to the protesters. The clerical leadership retaliated by banning him from holding concerts and releasing albums.
But this appeared to only increase his appeal. Fans gathered at night outside his hospital this week to sing one of his most popular songs.
Late on Thursday, videos on social media showed police using batons against fans after they chanted slogans against state media, which had boycotted Shajarian in the past decade, and clerical leaders.
“Let him go, you have no honour,” chanted fans in one video, protesting arrests by police forces. The authenticity of the videos could not be verified by Reuters.
Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks reported access restrictions, as used during street protests in Iran last November in an apparent effort to prevent contact among protesters and the distribution of videos.
“Confirmed: Internet disrupted in #Tehran ... real-time network data show regional restrictions in #Iran as thousands take to the streets to commemorate outspoken singer #Shajarian,” NetBlocks said on Twitter.
Arts and literature hold a special place in Iran, where poetry is read at family gatherings and guests break out in the songs of their favourite composers whose music often derives from medieval and mystic poetry.
Traditional Persian music dating to the 7th century was overtaken by pop music from the 1960s. But after the 1979 Islamic Revolution pop tunes were banned with only Persian and Western classical music allowed.
“Shajarian was a member of a cadre of young musicians who in the late 1970s revolutionised Persian classical music by transforming it into an art that spoke directly to the socio-political issues of the time,” said Nahid Siamdoust, author of “Soundtrack of the Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran.”
“These musicians ... created some of the most memorable songs of the revolution,” she added. But the revolution was not kind to most music. “Even musicians like Shajarian found their artistic freedom curtailed,” said Siamdoust.
Shajarian is survived by his wife, Katayoun, as well as three daughters and two sons.
Reporting by Dubai newsroom; editing by Mark Heinrich, Richard Pullin and Richard Chang
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.