Born and raised in Iran, Reza Pahlevani has lived in the north of England since 2012. Reza is no stranger to the world of showbusiness in the Persian music scene – establishing himself in a new community in the UK where he is basically unknown has been an exercise in patience and growth. But for the boundary-pushing singer-songwriter who sings primarily in Farsi, connecting with new audiences has been a challenge he welcomes.
His debut EP Roozmaregi (‘Routine’) offers a fascinating fusion of genres and influences, drawing heavily on the artist’s experiences of Sheffield and its underground music scene, delivered in his powerful voice and Farsi tongue. We spoke to him about the experiences that shaped the record.
You’re a star in the Persian community, but basically unknown outside of that scene. What’s it like to go between Iranian stardom and relative obscurity in the north of england?
Well, I don’t consider myself a star. There’s a word in Persian – honarjou – which means searching for art, or a student of art. And that’s more how I see myself.
I’m happy to be a part of both scenes. I love being appreciated for the music I am doing and at the same time, being in my home town Sheffield gives me a sense of being settled amongst like-minded friends of mine.
Your new EP seems to represent a move away from the Iranian pop scene that spawned you. Why the change in direction?
Firstly, I’m not walking away from the Iranian pop scene. But basically, I don’t want to label myself. Music has a lot of sounds. and I want to use all of them. I like to challenge myself, which means trying new things. I appreciate stepping into new fields and exploring different genres. I believe this will make me better in what I’m doing – just how an actor must portray different characters to hone their craft. I want to experiment with different genres to hone mine.
This EP has also been inspired by Sheffield. I’ve been living in Sheffield for 8 or 9 years, and this city’s music scene has had an effect on me. You can’t live somewhere and not be affected by it. So this EP is like the effect of this city on me.
Tell me about the decision to carry on singing in Persian. Was it a deliberate artistic choice?
Yes, it was. I’m more able to express myself in Persian – my vocabulary, delivery, everything. I have sung songs in Kurdish too, and one day hopefully English will be part of the languages I will perform in. But for me the pronunciation is key, so I prefer to stick to those languages I can express myself best in.
Does singing in Persian make it harder for you to connect with a wider audience?
I think my answer would be a different one if I have had the opportunity to perform in Iran. But now as I cannot I would say, yes, it does make it harder. As you might know Farsi and Kurdish are spoken in more than ten countries, but if you can’t face your audience, promoting yourself is hard. I wish it was different, but it isn’t.
Nevertheless I’m optimistic. All I can do is what I can do best and that is to sing from my heart.
Tell me about the themes on the new record.
I touch on a few subjects – anxiety, depression, insomnia, overthinking and love. I’m very conscious of the fact that people who know me see me as a funny, happy, jokey guy, so they might be surprised to see me releasing some music that’s quite dark. But it was something for me that needed to be expressed.
Check out Reza Pahlevani’s official site.