LOS ANGELES (AP) — Iranian classical singer Shahram Nazeri, dubbed “Iran’s Pavarotti,” was released early Friday after being held overnight for questioning by authorities in Tehran.
Nazeri turned himself in Thursday, a source close to the family told The Associated Press, requesting anonymity out of safety concerns. Nazeri’s detention and Friday release were confirmed by Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
The singer had been briefly detained at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran when he returned to the country on Jan. 4 from a New Year’s vacation in Dubai. His passport and identification documents were seized at the time, the source said.
Witnesses at the airport told the source that a crowd of onlookers who had initially sought Nazeri’s autograph grew angry that he was being detained and began shouting “Death to the Dictator.” Nazeri was allowed to leave the airport, but asked to report to security officials on Thursday.
A hugely popular classical musician in Iran for more than 30 years, Nazeri told The AP in October that he has never faced censorship in Iran — a rarity for any artist. His songs are typically centuries-old Iranian poems set to traditional music.
His song “Iran-e-Kohan” or “Original Iran,” regained popularity as a soundtrack for YouTube videos of violent street demonstrations following the country’s disputed June 12 elections.
The song first became popular during Iran’s eight year war with Iraq in the 1980s. Lyrics include: “The world watches for the freedom of Iranians/Be aware, the original Iranians are in danger.”
Though his music is well-loved within the religious establishment, Nazeri is not overtly political. During the October interview he refused to take a political stance about Iran’s embattled hardline government, saying “I’m for the people. Whatever they want, I want.”
Other artists have been far less restrained, without repercussion. Master traditional musician Mohammad Reza Shajarian demanded state radio and TV stop broadcasting his music in protest over the violence that followed this summer’s elections. The state broadcaster complied.
Nazeri performed his son Hafez Nazeri’s symphony “Cycle One: Iranian Sounds of Peace” at Carnegie Hall in November, a concert co-sponsored by The Asia Society, a nonprofit organization.
Asia Society Director for Cultural Programs and Performing Arts Rachel Cooper said Nazeri’s musical is capable of transcendant humanization, and inspired thunderous response at the sold-out Carnegie Hall show, with standing ovations and encores from a diverse audience of Iranians and Americans.