Voice the mullahs banned breaks her silence: Iran's top female singer, who has not performed since 1979, will be heard again. Julian Nundy reports from Paris

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The Independent Online
'I SANG for the stars, the mountains, the rivers and the birds. But I would not sing for the mullahs.'

At 69, Iran's top woman singer, Marzieh, opted last month for a life in exile after 15 years of silence since the Islamic revolution brought an end to her concerts. The decision, she said this week, was a sudden one, taken during a trip to France where she met Mariam Rajavi, the head of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, founded by the rebel People's Mujahedin. The council, based in Auvers-sur- Oise north of Paris, has named Mrs Rajavi president-elect in the event of the resistance ever taking power in Tehran.

Marzieh, whose real name is Ashraf os-Saadaat Morteza'i, said that, to keep her voice trained, she would leave her village near Tehran, walk into the desert and sing far from any human ear. Now rehearsing between 10 and 15 hours every day, she plans to give concerts abroad, principally for Iranian exiles, and hopes to use the platform to publicise the plight of Iranian artists and women under Iran's brand of Islamic rule.

With a repertoire of 1,000 songs spanning classical and modern styles from both the Orient and the West, Marzieh is one of those singers who incarnate national culture such as the late Um Kalthum in Egypt.

She began her public singing career in 1942 and quickly became the first Iranian woman to have her own radio programme. Radio remained her main broadcast medium. She only appeared on television once, turning down television opportunities under the Shah because she believed pre-revolutionary Iranian television was too commercial.

Marzieh's public appearances came to halt at the time of the revolution in 1979. Shortly after, all but martial and revolutionary music was banned and Tehran's conservatoire was closed. 'All Iranian artists,' she said, 'are under tremendous pressure. Many have died of despondency or because of the pressure.'

Only after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death in 1989 did the situation ease and Marzieh was offered the chance to sing again - but only to women. She refused because 'I have always sung only for all Iranians.'

Meanwhile she had been offered a contract for concerts at the Kennedy Centre in Washington in 1984 but refused 'because I only wanted to sing in Iran.'

In Iran, Marzieh said, women had become 'the most defiant members of society because of the pressures'. Every day, 'hundreds of woman are detained for wearing make-up or nail polish or because a tuft of hair is showing under a scarf and, once in detention, they are badly treated.'

Herself the daughter of a Muslim cleric, Marzieh had nothing good to say of the all-seeing and all-hearing Shia mullahs who lay down the law in modern Iran.

'The mullahs have no virtues whatsoever. Behind a facade they perpetrate the most heinous and dirty acts . . . In the past 15 years the mullahs have not taken a single step for the welfare of the Iranian people . . . They are there purely for themselves and their own pockets.'

Marzieh said she hoped to use her art to persuade the world community 'to save the Iranian people from the hell that the mullahs have created for them'. (Photograph omitted)