Endangered Archives

EAP088: The Golha radio programmes (Flowers of Persian Song and Poetry)

Mrs Jane Lewisohn, SOAS, University of London
2006 award - Major project
£59,913 for 14 months

VIEW FILES FROM THIS PROJECT

Project Overview

The Gulha ('Flowers of Persian Song and Music') comprise 1578 radio programmes consisting of approximately 847 hours of programmes broadcast over a period of 23 years - from 1956 through 1979. These programmes are made up of literary commentary with the declamation of poetry, which is sung with musical accompaniment, interspersed with solo musical pieces. For the 23 years that these programmes were broadcast, all the most eminent literary critics, famous radio announcers, singers, composers and musicians in Iran were invited to participate in them. The programmes were exemplars of excellence in the sphere of music and refined examples of literary expression, making use of a repertoire of over 250 classical and modern Persian poets, setting literary and musical standards that are still looked up to with admiration in Iran today and referred to by scholars and musicians* as an encyclopedia of Persian music and poetry. They marked a watershed in Persian culture, following which music and musicians gained respectability. Heretofore, music had been practised behind closed doors. Where performed in public spaces, the performers had been tarred with the same brush as popular street minstrels. Until the advent of these programmes, it had been taken for granted that any female performers and musicians were less than respectable. Due to the high literary and musical quality of these programmes, public perception of music and musicians in Iran shifted, its participants came to be considered-virtually for the first time in Persian history of the Islamic period-as maestros, virtuosos, divas and adepts of a fine art, and no longer looked down upon as cabaret singers or denigrated as street minstrels.

During the initial years of the Iranian Revolution, when the verse and song of the great Persian poets were considered to be counter-revolutionary, such that music was completely banned and recitation of manny Persian poets frowned upon, the participants in the Gulha programmes sought refuge in the privacy of their homes. Since the Islamic Republic had forced many of the great musicians to suppress their artistic inclinations and aspirations, many of them went into internal exile or fled abroad. Today, many of them are still banned from performing in Iran, and the female artists are prohibited from performing for mixed audiences.

Since within the next few decades, much of this unique documentary heritage of music may be lost or left to deteriorate, it's very important that these programmes be collected, preserved and stored in an academic institution outside Iran so that this valuable and representative epitome of Persian literary and musical culture be made available to future scholars of Persian literature, music & culture.

The project proposes to collect and construct a digital archive of all those Gulha programmes that were produced by the original producer Mr. Davoud Pirnia, in order to store these for access to academic researchers of Persian music and literature in the British Library under the auspices of the Endangered Archives Programme. This will be done by going to Iran where the Gulha tapes are available in private institutions and various collectors' homes. Digital copies of the programmes that were produced by Davoud Pirnia, which make up approximately 707 of the total 847 hours of recorded programming, will be made. Where possible, the tapes will be copied in a professional sound studio by qualified sound technicians. In the cases where the owner does not want the tapes removed from their premises the sound technician will bring the equipment to those premises to make copies on site. With the help of research staff the literary and musical content of the programmes will be listed.

Visit the Golha website here

* In general, the Golha programmes should be considered to be a veritable audio treasury of the history of traditional Persian Music. Considering the incredible efforts that went into producing these programmes and their strong influence on society, they are still considered today to be the best resource for our music. It is very appropriate and important that these programmes be preserved and passed on to future generations. Homayoun Khorram, The Clamor of the Stars (Ghugha-yi sitaragan), Farhang va Pazhuhish, Special Issue on Music, No. 197 (August 2005), p. 20.

Project Outcome

Listen online to 1,296 recordings or search the catalogue.

During the compilation of the Golha archive, the project collaborated with many different institutions, including the Iranian National Radio, the 'Museum of Music' and the 'House of Music', all three institutions based in Tehran. Access to numerous private collectors in Iran and in the West was also gained, who supplied the project with copies of programmes.

After visiting countless institutions and interviewing numberless musicians and collectors, the project was finally able to collect and digitalize 1315 of the 1488 programs in the collection. In the process of collecting the programs, it was discovered that at least 60 of Multi-coloured Flowers (Golha-yi Rangarang) programmes had never been recorded or broadcast. It was also discovered that some 84 others of the Immortal Flowers (Golha-yi javidan) programmes had been broadcast but had not been recorded or else were taped over due to lack of blank tapes. Taking these facts into consideration, it is probable that there are only 1344 of the original programmes that are presently extant. Whilst conducting the project, a database for all the 1315 programmes collected was also compiled.

While collecting the Golha programmes in Iran an exchange agreement was entered into with the Iranian National Radio and the Museum of Music, the two most prestigious and best organized institutions that handle music collections in Iran. For instance, while the project received 19 programmes from the Iranian National Radio, they reecived 59 programmes that they were missing. The Museum of Music was given 184 programmes that they did not have and the project received from them 81 programmes needed to complete the collection.

The archival partner for the Golha project is a Persian cultural organization located in Berkeley, California, called the Persian-American Cultural Center. Devoted to the propagation and preservation of Persian culture by sponsoring public events and holding classes in Persian music, this center has committed to making the archive freely available not only to their own students, but also to any other scholars and researchers through a purpose built website.

Blog: Flowers of Persian Song and Music – March 2014

Read online the open access article: Conservation of the Iranian Golha radio programmes and the heritage of Persian classical poetry and music, published in the EAP Anniversary publication From Dust to Digital. The article can also be downloaded as a PDF (73000KB).