Since 1979, Iran has banned women from singing solo in public. The year marked the beginning of the Islamic Revolution and the start of a clampdown on Iranian society. Composer Sara Najafi and her female singer friends are determined to challenge this. They decide to organise a concert in the heart of Iran – its capital Tehran, inviting French and Tunisian female artists to take part. The concert is a celebration of the female voice – something that has been silenced for over 35 years.
This is no easy task and their battle is charted in "No Land's Song", a documentary of the concert's progress filmed by Sara's brother, film-maker Ayat Najafi. The documentary, which will be showcased at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London over the next few days, shows the painful ups and downs the group face as they encounter endless barriers from Iranian authorities.
Inspired by the memories of ballsy female Iranian singer Qamar-ol-Moluk Vaziri who, in 1924, became the first female to perform without a hijab in front of men, they remain optimistic. To reach their goal, Sara spends most of the time shuttling between the Iranian Ministry of Culture and rehearsals, hearing arguments such as "a woman is nine times more tender than a man" (which makes a female singer comparatively more stimulating) or suggestions of "one man will be enough if he is the soloists and the women are the background singers".
We watch Sara wade past the outright no's, the rejection of the foreign singers' visas and the strict conditions imposed on them. At times, the viewer follows the journey almost painstakingly which makes the documentary a little bit of a slow burner. However, her brave commitment shines through throughout- and it pays off. The concert goes ahead without the restrictions the authorities wanted to impose and the women sing to a packed audience of both women and men.
Their concert is provocative and risky, including songs with the lyrics "Get involved! Take risks! Destroy the house of tyranny!" The Tunisian singer was Emel Mathlouthi whose song Kelmti Horra (My word is free) became a protest anthem during the Arab Spring. In the concert she dedicates her solo to the Iranian youth from the Tunisian youth. Instead of a celebration of the female voice, it seems to have become a much more obvious act of rebellion. The passion of all those involved is undeniable, and despite the slow beginning, by the end you cannot help but feel their emotion.