The 6/8 Beat Goes On
Persian Popular Music from Bazm-e Qajariyyeh
to Beverly Hills Garden Parties
Only recently has the study of popular and mass culture been deemed fit for serious scholarly attention on a large scale. This seems peculiar in light of the fact that popular culture in its various forms celebrates and elucidates the “here and now” of every society, historical and modern, and reveals crucial discourses characteristic of particular societies. Popular culture, however, “still carries two older senses: inferior kinds of work cf. popular literature (popular press as distinguished from quality press); and work deliberately setting out to win favor (popular journalism as distinguished from democratic journalism, or popular entertainment); as well as the more modern sense of well-liked by many people” (R. Williams, cited in Strinati 1995, 3). The popular culture theorist Dominic Strinati considers most important the extent to which “people's lives in western capitalist societies appear to be affected by the popular culture presented by the modern mass media. ” He continues, “It is important in other kinds of societies as well, both historical and contemporary, but in these societies the sheer volume of popular media culture which is made available gives it a specific significance which needs to be looked at” (1995, xiii).
This avoidance of scholarly investigation into popular culture has been particularly prominent in Middle East studies, in which, aside from definitively “premodern” folklore, popular culture is presumed relevant only to the mass culture of the West. In contrast to nearly invisible popular traditions is what Edward Said (1978) terms the “timeless, frozen East” that possesses only what we would characterize as “high” culture. Our highbrow/ lowbrow distinctions do not necessarily work well as a description of the state of Iranian culture, and yet they are relevant to some contexts. 1 Most native Iranian music scholars, and their non-Iranian disciples, often eschew the study of popular music forms because of their amiyaneh (popular) con-