Songs of Exile and Longing; Seeing Googoosh Sing

Last month I flew to Cyprus because I wanted to hear a legend sing – Googoosh, the Iranian diva, who had sung songs of love and exile as an early twenty-year old, long before they became her own theme songs. Pre-revolutionary vintage, made new again after more than twenty years of silence and a second shot at singing.

My friend, Roxanna, had stumbled on the concert announcement by accident, as she was looking for things to do in Cyprus for out-of-town guests. It was advertised with a seating plan for 1400 people and tickets were expensive. I hesitated. The date was at the end of my last week of work; I wondered whether the travel would keep me from wrapping up responsibly. But all I needed was a laptop and an internet connection, and the prospect of seeing Googoosh perform live, in the presence of an audience that had flown in from Iran especially to hear her sing, was hard to resist.

Having grown up in different countries, I carry inside of me a mosaic of disparate cultural markers. Maybe I picked up on her music later in life, but her name has an emotional echo that goes back beyond remembering. Her songs, the timbre of her voice, have the patina of early childhood memory to me.

A voice full of longing, unabashed, emotional, sovereign. Like fado and the many other forms of setting grief and strength – life itself – to music. A voice that carries the memories of a distant time, before the revolution, before the wars, when Iran had a pop diva of its own, with a voice like Edith Piaff and a taste for extravagance and elegance.

Nostalgia is never only private. It is always echoed and amplified by the longing of others.