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If you don’t mind, please play this video as you read. And consider that this song, “Jaan-e Maryam” (“My Sweet Maryam”) and others like it were banned for more than three decades in Iran—where the song was a hit in the 1970s.
The song sweetly expresses a deep and abiding longing for a woman whose name and essence reflect that of an exotic, healing flower. I found this translation of its lyrics (credit to YouTube user Mansor Pooyan) in the comments for this clip of Jalili performing the song in 2005:
I smelled your fragrance and tears began to pour
Through the rain and the clouds, a rainbow appeared at the end
Life doesn't change from outside; it changes from inside.
Wherever you see a flower, remember your inner scent.
Wherever I saw a cypress in the meadow, I kissed its feet in memory of you
As you are, all you see is an interpretation.
The rainbow is really there if you change your outlook
Come and observe the world from this towering, truthful place
Imagine what it must have been like for the Persian/Iranian people to hear this song, relate it to their own lives and relationships, only to then watch the government forbid its public performance because of its Western influences. It’s hard to conceive of losing a similar American song from the same period. Imagine only being able to play Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” or Elvis Costello’s “Alison”—songs that make our eyes glaze over as we pine for their titular women—behind closed doors, and at a low volume for fear someone would hear it and turn you in.
Thankfully, “My Sweet Maryam” and other popular music from the 1940s-1970s Iran, when the country was embracing rather than shutting out Western culture, are slowly creeping back into Persian culture. Jalili, although born in the U.S., discovered these songs through her father-in-law, and has been performing them around the world. On Feb. 5, she’ll bring her repertoire to Ogden for a free concert that will broaden your musical horizons and reveal a thing or two about Iran’s history and culture.
Monika Jalili: Concert of Persian Songs of Love and Hope
Monday, Feb. 5, 7 p.m.
Peery’s Egyptian Theater
2415 Washington Blvd., Ogden