City Research Online

Hip-hop Tehran: Migrating Styles, Musical Meanings, Marginalised Voices

Nooshin, L. (2011). Hip-hop Tehran: Migrating Styles, Musical Meanings, Marginalised Voices. In: Toynbee, J. & Dueck, B. (Eds.), Migrating Music. (pp. 92-111). Routledge.


A great deal of ethnomusicological writing in recent years has explored the impact of global processes on the creation and consumption of music in specific locales. Whether expressed in terms of cultural ‘deterriorialisation’, the emergence of transnational networks and flows, or migrancy (both physical and virtual), it is clear that previously accepted ideas about the intimate connection between music and place – in the sense of specific kinds of music ‘belonging’ to particular places and peoples – have become disrupted. Musical migrations throughout most of human history have depended on the physical movement of people; however, the rise of mediated technologies since the late nineteenth century made it increasingly possible for musical genres and styles to ‘migrate’ independently, without any necessary connection to a people, their culture or to the music’s ‘original’ meanings. Moreover, styles or genres could be ‘adopted’ in new contexts by people who had no cultural or ethnic connection to the music. As Eisentraut (2001) discuses for the case of samba in Wales, in such situations the music can serve as a catalyst for the creation of new communities and identities focused around the music itself, and associated lifestyle choices, rather than around cultural or ethnic affiliation.

The complex cultural configuration of many urban centres globally (including but not exclusively those of the metropolitan ‘north’) encompass musical genres which are closely tied to diaspora and other migrant populations. At the same time, some of these genres, and others, have spread well beyond their ‘own’ culture: gamelan, samba, salsa, rebetiko, klezmer, bhangra, and so on, are fast gaining a global presence, not in the sense of being heard literally everywhere, but in a growing number of physically noncontiguous sites. This includes musics where there is a connection with local diasporic or immigrant populations, but also and increasingly others where genres are disconnected from such populations, even where they have a presence. As musics migrate, and some achieve a near global presence, authors are increasingly attending both to the local as the site of meaning-construction, and to the potential emergence of trans-national meanings.

In this chapter I explore the reasons why certain musics appear to be particularly ‘mobile’, focusing on hip-hop, a genre which has gained a notable global presence over the last 20 years or so, going well beyond its roots in the Bronx area of New York, as is well documented in the literature.i Specifically I focus on the case of hip-hop in Iran, and examine some of the reasons for its remarkable rise in popularity since the mid 2000s, taking on distinct local meanings including, significantly, a reconstructed sense of connection to place, in this case the capital city Tehran. Hip-hop might be regarded as the migrant music par excellence in that its migration has been almost entirely effected through mediation and rarely through the movement of ‘tradition bearers’. As such, it’s interesting to explore the new meanings that music acquires in contexts which are culturally distant from its origins.

Publication Type: Book Section
Publisher Keywords: Music
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
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