The title Seized has a double meaning. A decade ago, the young Iranian hip-hop artist Mahdyar ran afoul of the government and found himself blacklisted and in danger of arrest; he has since relocated to Paris. To be seized is also to be caught up in forces larger than one’s self, from music to revolution. To encounter Mahdyar’s story and music is to be seized: captivated, caught up, enveloped. We suspect that the effect will snowball once the album is released, as the artist becomes a spokesperson for artistic freedom under fire.
We also trust that Mahdyar will welcome such fire. The video for “Money, Money” is an indictment of wealth, violence, and the convolution of symbols in hip-hop culture. The recent Fadaei, a production for rapper Efrati (not on the album), calls out extremism in all its forms. Seized is primarily instrumental, but builds to a memorable refrain in its closing track: don’t twist the facts. It’s the perfect summation of anger, directed against all who would redact, sublimate, or deny the truth, and even more, all who would offer “post-truth” or “alternate truth” on the same plane. Such conversations are now global. The most subversive enemy is not another nation, but a false mindset, one that proclaims “truth is whatever I say it is.” This abuse is practiced by those in power, whether presidents or parliaments, and it filters down to the masses, where it is adopted by junior demagogues and obsequious followers.
Seized stands in the midst of a perfect storm. One recalls Iran’s recent decades of history, especially in relationship to Iraq and the United States: captives, wars, shifting allegiances, and the “war on terror.” Western ears receive Middle Eastern sounds with varying degrees of agitation, unable to distinguish between calls to arms and calls to prayer, or between the contexts and inflections of ululation. Persian sounds permeate this recording, lending it a sublime authenticity. But there are also crashes, sirens, a sense of things going wrong (“Timmy Might Bury Y’All”). Mahdyar is clearly still in love with the better parts of his native land, yet heartbroken by its worst, as well as by the forces that threaten its progress. He uses this set to spotlight some of its most wonderful sounds: an expatriate’s letter of tough love.
Given their titles, it’s easy to read politics into these presentations. “Hush” may refer to truth, women, protest, culture, sound or any manner of topics. The track itself is a battle between loud and soft, beat and texture, aggression and passivity. On the surface level, it’s a great dance cut, and some will receive it as such. To quote Don Henley, “They’re pickin’ up the prisoners and puttin ’em in a pen, and all she wants to do is dance.” But it’s also the sort of track that can enter the ears and open the eyes. And like the rest of the album, it represents a brand of future music that incorporates the past. The breakdown of “Khakis” is surreal, a wedding that sounds like a war or the other way around. A signature sound is apparent on first play. With a decade of production already behind him, Mahdyar’s debut as an artist is a major statement that shoots arrows in all directions, each one reaching its mark. (Richard Allen)