Our latest project focuses on motivational Iranian female figures. From entrepreneurs to designers and beyond, these women have managed to leave a lasting mark on the world. In a series of interviews we bring to you the details behind their stories of success.
Widely accredited as Iran’s Lady of Classical Music, Pari Maleki is a musician and songstress. At 65 she supervises an ensemble named Khonya (meaning melody, song and music in Persian) and runs a music school of the same name in Tehran.
With more than 200 performances since its establishment, Khonya was formed in 1993 as a women-only ensemble. The diva was the first lady to go on stage with an official permit after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. In 1998 the group started to perform with a mixed gender lineup.
With her group she has performed in several countries such as Germany, France, Austria and Belgium to name a few.
How would you describe yourself in a sentence?
I am determined and hard-working and I try to be helpful.
How would you describe a successful woman of the contemporary times?
She is, above all things, organized; an organized lady can get around to doing anything. She doesn’t give up too soon. We are in a difficult time and age and to achieve things, you just have to work that much harder and pour your heart into it while being patient all the way.
How did you enter the music scene and how did your life and career become all about music?
When it gets to arts and music, many people might decide to pursue these fields later in life but then again there are those who in a way seem to have an innate passion for it, I would be the latter. Ever since I was a little girl I was obsessed, I always loved singing and fantasized about performing. When I was four I would imagine myself singing in front of a large audience, these dreams were what drove me.
I come from a religious family background so I can’t say I grew up in a family of musicians. But my father bought a radio when they were first brought to Iran. I would listen to Radio Golha which used to broadcast classical Iranian music. This inspired me.
I was in the fifth grade of elementary school when I had my very first performance. I also performed in high school and took part in music contests as I was growing up but I’d always see to it that my family would never know!
When I got married my husband helped me extensively and my musical career was launched more seriously.
What in life inspires you?
Nature, people, honesty and love.
What would you do differently if you were to start anew?
I think I would do most things the same, I don’t regret having chosen music as my career. If I was born in a different time and situation though, things would have probably been easier for me.
The limitations that exist for a female singer in Iran might not have held me back as much. I could have been an international figure. If I were to start again I would still stay in Iran and build my career here but at the same time I would hope that the limitations would be lifted.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have had to deal with down the way?
There are red lines here in Iran that I can’t transgress and being a female musician and singer makes it that much harder.
Many of the most prominent Iranian musicians started a long time after I did or were on the same level as I they are now better known and are making more money. The same can’t be said for me because being a woman in this profession in Iran comes with its limitations.
Yet the thing is I don’t believe that in the face of such problems one should take a detour or simply give up. Every person has a calling in life and a set of responsibilities in their work and society. My calling is to pass on what I know to the younger generation and train them for the future. As a musician and instructor, giving up or leaving the country was just not an option for me and I just had to move forward. I believe that an artist can shine in his or her own homeland.
What advice would you give to a young lady who looks up to you?
Stay true to yourself and be organized. Live a healthy life. Maintain a healthy body and soul. Build your character. Read as much as you can, watch films, go to plays, see artwork, and culturally develop yourself in as many areas as you can. These are what really build an artist.
What kinds of music do you listen to other than traditional Persian?
I particularly admire Western classical music and world music.
How important is the opinion of the audience in what you do?
As artists who are up front and center, we work with and for the people, if the audience were to disappear a performance would make no sense at all.
I believe that every artist should remain truthful, kind and down to earth and to pass the same vibe on to the audience; it doesn’t take too much to be respectful after all.
I don’t believe that an artist should disregard the taste of the public altogether; however, what I firmly believe in is that it is upon us to elevate public taste.
Whether negative or constructive, what is your take on peer criticism?
If we are liberal enough, we’d like to think that anybody has the right to criticize us.
Yet sometimes you end up thinking that people aren’t in your shoes or fully aware of all the difficulties that you go through for just putting on a show so you might not buy what they say to you.
When it gets to music and performance arts, a large part of every show has to do with personal standards: some people might criticize what you do simply because it doesn’t fit their taste. I don’t really believe that this type of criticism is valid. Then again, even in a case such as this, what eventually matters the most is that they listened and observed and the show was successful enough to elicit a response.
What are your hopes for the future?
Before I lose my voice or die I hope to see the limitations lifted. My biggest aspiration isn’t to make more money or to rank any higher, it is to live and sing freely; just like a free bird.
To get to know more about Ms. Pari Maleki Follow her on Instagram
Neda Monem is a Tehran-based journalist, photographer and social media advisor. She covers arts, culture, society, tech and startups.