My Woman Crush Wednesday: Googoosh, Persian Icon

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They call her Iran’s Daughter. Hailed as the most influential and celebrated Iranian pop artist of all time, Googoosh holds monumental status among singers of the Middle East. What she represents to us is akin to the iconic fame of Elvis or Michael Jackson – and today she’s my Woman Crush Wednesday.

My earliest memories are that of my mother singing Googoosh songs to me. Growing up only speaking Pashto, I didn’t really understand what the words meant – Afghan Farsi (officially known as Dari) and Iranian Farsi differ in dialect, and already not knowing Dari fluently, I came to love Googoosh’s music initially not so much for the lyrics, but for it’s timelessness. Songs she sang in the 1970’s still stirred my soul and moved my feet. My generation rediscovered Googoosh this way – by listening to our parent’s old albums and bootlegged recordings. Although Googoosh hails from Iran, she is the daughter of Azeri parents, and has an Armenian name. She was adored by my mothers generation in Afghanistan. When Googoosh made her famous comeback in 2000, I begged my mother to take me to her concert, and cried the entire night when I was left home. But my mother, sister, and aunt came home in tears, so moved by her performance.

This is because Googoosh’s comeback was not from an artistic writers’ block or management issues. Googoosh had been banned by the conservative government of Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Unlike other artists, Googoosh refused to leave Iran for exile, and instead, remained in silence for over two decades. She had a series of failed marriages and abusive relationships, and only has one son from her first marriage. My mother always said, “she is much too great for any man to handle”.

During this time, her fans held on preciously to her work. Across the world, Iranians, Afghans, Armenians, Tajiks, and all others continued to blast her melodies, a testament to her lasting quality as an artist.

Googoosh is a revolutionary in her own right. She pioneered the breakthrough of women in the Middle Eastern entertainment industry, starring in 25 films, winning countless awards, playing to millions in sold-out concerts internationally, and recording in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Armenian, and Dari. Googoosh has duets with Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Charles Aznavour, and Silvy Vartan, among countless other renowned artists. She was and is a fashion icon – known for her flamboyant, hippie-like fashion and extravagant hairstyles. To this day she continues to record, recently making headlines with her single “Behesht”, a controversial song that promotes gay rights, adding to Googoosh’s style as a rebel and revolutionary.

Now that I am older and understand Farsi/Dari at an almost fluent level, her lyrics resonate with me that much more. Her single, “Mano Gonjishka” is among my favorites. A heartbreaking poem, Googoosh begs her lover to return, proclaiming that the house-birds she’s kept in cages lament the absence of her lover.

Any time I hear this song, I imagine Googoosh, alone in her home in Iran. How she must have felt, being caged during the Revolution, how it must have pained her to see her records being destroyed, her films banned. When Googoosh was silenced, it signaled the dark wave that came across the Middle East during this turbulent time.

This history adds to Googoosh’s status as an icon. She is much more than a pop-music entertainer. She is a symbol of hope, not only to women, but to artists across the Middle East and Central Asia. Her silence and come-back represent the tenacity and fervor our people have, to thrive, to succeed, and to break from the socio-political structures that attempt to hamper any individuality or independence we assert for ourselves. Her strength, endurance, and unbreakable spirit makes her one of my personal idols.

Check out more on Iran’s Daughter at: www.googoosh.com

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