War and Song

I began my professional career after the war. The war filled us with enthusiasm and changed the theme of most songs, and that’s why I was encouraged to help in the war effort. I always told my group that the songs they sing would encourage our combatants. (Ahmad Tavakkoli, Director of the Abadeh Choir)

Growing Up with Music

I had meetings with teachers from a number of schools and asked them to pick some students who were interested in singing. But I insisted that I didn’t care whether they had a great voice or not, training was more important for me. I wanted to form a group to train people and bring them up. I recommended they choose students who were left alone and isolated; those coming from broken or deprived homes, students who weren’t making progress, or weren’t good-looking. I told them not to turn them down. We wanted to give them confidence and help them progress.

So we formed singing groups for all ages, boys and girls separately. Elementary level groups were directed by their own teachers and I just gave them guidelines, and as for Middle and High school-level students, they were selected by their teachers and I was in charge of their monitoring and screening. The teachers were very cooperative. When all the groups were formed, I visited them and selected the final members. I had a Jeep that I filled with gasoline regularly and paid for out of my own pocket. I went to visit different schools, even visiting distant regions in Abadeh for this very reason. It was my everyday schedule. Every school had a singing group, and in some schools we had two, and we wrote age-appropriate songs for each group. (Ahmad Tavakkoli)

Scout Camp

There used to be a keyboard in one of the rooms of our scout camp. The room was carpeted, so we went inside and sat on the carpet in a few rows of seven or eight and practiced singing. Mr. Tavakkoli cared a lot about the students’ mentality and believed they needed to relieve their stress in order to sing better. So he scheduled a recess during practice so that the students would play outside for about half an hour. It was a beautiful camp, with fruit trees everywhere… (Alireza Memari)

Fake Letter of Consent

When we needed to travel to other cities, they gave us a letter of consent to bring to our families, which they had to sign and fingerprint. Then we had to give it back to the school. In some cases, our parents had to go to school personally and hand them the form. Once we had to go to Ahvaz, and a friend of mine’s parents were against his going there, so he faked their signature and fingerprint and gave it to Mr. Tavakkoli. Suspicious, Mr. Tavakkoli called their house and asked his parents, who then said they said they had never signed such a paper and everything blew up in his face. (Ahmad Hejari)

Had it Lasted One More Second

We were invited to perform for the children of martyrs in Shiraz and Kaveh Tehranian was one of our singers, but I had also taught him to play the keyboard. He hadn’t played it in public before but I made him do it there so that he would face his fear, which had him trembling throughout the performance, but he did well nonetheless. After it was over he said that had it lasted one more second, he would have fainted playing the keyboard. Up to that point I had been the keyboard player, but since then, Kaveh became in charge of playing it and became so confident at it that he managed to play in front of the greatest leader in the world and not mess up one note. (Ahmad Tavakkoli)

Behind “Dad’s Story”

Before we made the song “Dad’s Story”, we had one group made up mostly from martyrs’ families, and one of the members was a polite but disorderly boy. His father was a pilot who was martyred during the war. We never once told him off even though he liked to mess around with the other kids or cause trouble.

I once asked him: “Have you ever seen your father in your dreams?” He told me that a few nights before, he saw his father returning from the front and he jumped into his arms. That’s when I thought: What would a martyr’s child say to his father if they were to meet? I first imagined the encounter and then put it to paper and wrote a song. (Ahmad Tavakoli)

No Dice!

Ayatollah Khamenei once asked me about our group’s schedule for the next day. When I said we were free, he said they had talked with Imam Khomeini and he was really interested to see our group’s performance on Mab’ath Day [the sending of Prophet Mohammad], and our group had already prepared a song for Mab’ath. We left for Jamaran (Tehran) early in the morning, however when we got there the guards didn’t let us bring our keyboard inside. “No dice!” they said, stating that we weren’t allowed to play it in front of Imam Khomeini [for security reasons]. Mr. Tavakoli insisted that the keyboard was a necessity for the group’s performance and that it was impossible to sing without it. The guard said that they would install a curtain and the keyboard could then be played out of sight, but still Mr. Tavakoli wouldn’t have it. He said that the player and the singers had to maintain eye contact. So they insisted and he refused, to which they replied that the performance was now canceled. I came out and called Ayatollah Khamenei’s secretary and told him the story, and this was about 20 minutes before the beginning of the ceremony. I don’t know what happened in that time, all I know is that Seyyed Ahmad (Imam Khomeini’s son) arrived and allowed us to enter. He said that the Imam insisted that these two musical instruments be there [keyboard and a pipe]. He also said the Imam ordered that the TV broadcast focus on these instruments […] When the performance was over, Seyyed Ahmad said that the Imam had prepared some presents for the group members. So we went to the financial affairs office, where they served us tea and gave each member some financial compensation. They also asked us to perform our song for the people who worked in the Imam’s administrative offices. We went there but Mr. Tavakkoli was against it. He said that the kids were tired and they also had to go and record a song for the Iranian Broadcast Station later. I told him to take it easy and let the group perform one or two songs for them, and they did. (Hashem Taleb)


When we arrived at the hotel in Tehran, I washed my socks. There was a clothesline in front of our suite’s window. I hanged my socks there and went to sleep. That night a bomb exploded somewhere near the hotel and the string was cut because of its shockwave.  The next day I went to pick up my socks but I couldn’t find the string. I thought I was in the wrong room, so I checked the other rooms but my socks were nowhere to be found. I told Mr. Tavakkoli about it and he offered to give me his own socks, but I said his socks weren’t my size. It was early morning and he said: “How am I supposed to find a shop and buy you socks now?” I was feeling a bit sad because everyone had socks except for me. When we went inside Jamaran, I was still worried about my socks. There were some people from the Revolutionary Guard and Basij and they were all wearing socks too. I wished I had lost my shoes instead of my socks. When we stood up to sing I curled my toes and put my feet on each other to attract less attention, I was worried that the Imam would look at my feet! (Alireza Houshmand)

Friendly Feast

After our performance we went to the Presidential office. It was a friendly and intimate meeting between the group and Ayatollah Khamenei. We sat around him, he asked us some questions and even gave us some ideas. We found it very interesting. After dinner was served, we again gathered around him, and he asked to hear our voices. I remember him talking to me saying: “you sing a part for us.” I sang a part of one of our songs and then Mehrdad Shahriari continued after me. He was very interested in our soloists, Mr. Tavakkoli and Mr. Nazari and talked to them. We were all comfortable and felt at peace around him. His behavior touched our hearts and that meeting will remain a pleasant memory that we will hold dear for the rest of our lives. (Alireza Memari)

Troubles Caused by MEK Agents

When our songs became well known, our troubles began. Sometimes when we’d be sleeping at night, a few loud cherry bombs would explode in our yard, and my wife and children would wake up extremely frightened. Whenever Mr. Shahmoradi came to our house, I was afraid for his life, because these accidents increased whenever he was there. They also threw Molotov Cocktails in our yard, and I began getting suspicious calls. They wanted to disturb us, but thank God no one was hurt. (Ahmad Tavakkoli)

Bread, Yoghurt and Cassette

Abadeh had given about 400 martyrs during the war and its citizens were very active in helping the war effort. We once visited the fronts in the South and West with 24 truckloads of food and necessities, but wherever we went, the soldiers kept asking us for cassettes of the Abadeh choir instead of homemade food or bread. We had brought more than twenty boxes of our cassettes and we gave them all away. Our songs were broadcast in military bases and they helped inspire our combatants. The soldiers even woke up to our songs for their morning prayers, and so we felt very proud when they asked for our cassette instead of food. (Hojatol-Islam Mousavi)

Held in the Air by Our Fans

We went to the front at Ahvaz to perform for the 19 Fars Army Corps. Being at their camp was an interesting experience for us. Our stage was in the basement of a fortified building, and the ceiling was low, so we had to crouch to perform. The soldiers loved us a lot and they lifted us up over their heads and moved us to the stage. There was no ventilation in the basement, and it smelled of sweat and blood. When we wanted to begin a silence fell upon the scene, as we suddenly came to the realization that we were among people who were ready to die then and there. Some of them had bandages on their arms, some on the top of their heads, one was missing a leg, another an arm. Some had written sentences like “we love martyrdom” on the back of their clothes. They had headbands with the names of Shia Imams written on them. It was an experience we can never forget. A soon as our song’s prelude began, they burst into tears. Some were humming the songs and others listening intently. We were told that our songs were broadcast at the fronts and that soldiers used to sing “Dad’s Story” in their gatherings. (Alireza Memari)

He Belongs to the Other World

I will never forget the innocent and peaceful face of Mehrdad Karimi. He was a well-behaved, interesting kid, in whom I could see no fault. He was a committed boy who loved his work. Unfortunately, these types of people leave us soon. I could see it in his eyes: he didn’t belong to this world. He always talked about war even at that young age. He used to tell me how bad he felt about not going to fight. I told him that he was just a kid and that singing was no less important than fighting, but I promised to take them to visit the front. But he was different, he thought differently. Although he was very young, his thoughts were mature. I was worried that he would go to the front and not return, and that’s exactly what happened. Mehrdad went to defend his country, and we later heard he was martyred. He was very kind-hearted, and unfortunately we had nothing to remember him by, and didn’t do anything to keep his memory alive. I should have at least written a song about him, and I feel so sorry and ashamed I didn’t but I hope God forgives me. (Ahmad Tavakoli)

Priceless Contribution

“We need to express our gratitude to Mr. Tavakkoli for his priceless contribution to the Revolution. Each of the songs he made and words he wrote, are the fruits of our Revolution. And the songs, lyrics, music, the choir and its performances are each an art form in their own right and we have to thank this hardworking and patient man, and congratulate him for doing such a perfect job because it is the result of his years of hard work. Each member in the group did well, our young friend who sang solo today and the one who performed the previous song before noon; Their performance, which was broadcast on TV, had caught my eye and today, they truly acted like professional singers and all had coordinated gestures, which reflects their maturity and good training. All the voices match each other well and were harmonious. You all have clear pleasant voices. This man has gathered such a harmonious group.

I thank each of you and particularly Mr. Tavakkoli. I’d also thank our piper who played the pipe both pleasantly and slowly, and this is the way it’s supposed to be played, because an instrument is like salt for the food and one shouldn’t go overboard with it. Real art comes from one’s soul and it is this soul that influences everything and gives meaning. (from the book “Art in the viewpoint of the Supreme Leader”- his [Ayatollah Khamenei’s] remarks for the Abadeh choir and officials from Shiraz – 28 Nov 1987)

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