I'm a man who enjoys hearing the stories of those making their way in the creative sphere, be it art, music, film, design etc. As someone who's worked in this environment for eight years, trying and, at times, failing to get my foot in the door, experiencing the slow, mundane wait for a whisper of recognition, it's inspiring to listen to those that have experienced the same thing.
With the music industry, it's no exaggeration to say that it is a harsh mistress, with its unspoken rules and guidelines that today, more often than not, suppress genuine talent in favour of the vacuous and repetitive. Ali Azimi, an Iranian singer-songwriter, based in London, has managed to carve a niche for himself in the field of Persian Indie Rock, with music that actually means something. His sharp guitar playing, coupled with his masterful lyrics, that speak of primal feelings such as love, loss, hope and happiness, have become a cultural force, seeing Azimi gain fans across the globe.
"I think it's difficult when you're not from a musical background like me" says a contemplative Ali "I had spent two years training in classical guitar in my late teens, along with studying engineering. At the time I was very serious about wanting to become a classical guitarist, like Julian Bream, and gradually I began getting work from it. Eventually I started covering Beatles songs, sometimes adding Farsi lyrics. It lead to me writing my own song, which became popular among my circle of friends, it was very funny. Finally, after all that, I felt confident enough to write and play more of my own work."
The life of a creative mind, hampered by a lack of opportunity so often leads to periods of frustration, tied to a job that, although giving a sense of financial security, so rarely satisfies the soul. Having studied engineering and securing a job at a company in London, Ali found himself stuck in a rut, getting older, with a growing feeling of unfulfillment. Finally, at the age of 31, he struck out. "It was around the time of the financial crises, there were a lot of redundancies at my work. One day I was sat next to my boss, and we had this spat, he said if you want to become like me, you have to act like this and that. I said to him, in front of everybody, if I become like you I'll kill myself. Two weeks later I was fired."
Moving back to Tehran, he gathered his friends together and formed the band Radio Tehran, eventually releasing the album 88 in 2009. It struck a chord with many Iranians, and lead to a level of success that Ali had long dreamed of, yet it was around this time, with the eruption of protests in Tehran, following the disputed presidential election results, that he and his band mates were embroiled in turmoil. during the periods of mass protest, some of my band mates were getting arrested and thrown into prison, our viola player got beaten up, in the end it got so bad I came back to London." Along with Ali came one other band mate, the other two unable to make the journey due to visa problems. "It wasn't ideal, but the album was getting some attention, and we were desperate to play gigs, whilst the album was fresh in peoples minds. But with the other members stuck in Iran it was an impossible situation, so we ended up auditioning musicians in London, essentially reforming the band. It gave us the chance to play some gigs around the city, so people were finally able to see us live."
Later leaving Radio Tehran and forming Ali Azimi and the Needs, he now has a career built upon firm foundations, creating music that speaks to an ever growing number of admirers. A man who has pursued his dreams across very perilous territory, he still faces struggles, financially his situation is insecure, generating monetary security through a constant round of tours and performances, yet his creativity has not stifled, nor has he become drenched in self pity.
The latest addition to his oeuvre is a melodic gem, a poem Zendegi by the famed Houshang Ebtehaj, with additional lyrics by Ali.
Imagery courtesy of Ali Azimi
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