Hypernova’s Raam: Power To The People

Last week, I wrote about Hypernova frontman Raam using his Facebook page to help get information about the protests over the June 12 election results out of Iran.

On Friday, I was lucky enough to get the chance to sit down with the Iranian singer to discuss what he and his band mates have endured to get where they are, the situation in Iran and the amazing role the Internet has played in the ongoing drama.

You and the rest of the band started out in Iran where Western music is illegal. Was there a time when it was okay for you to be out in the open? Did things change after the latest president was elected?

Things were a bit more relaxed, but everything was still underground. It wasn’t legal, but the authorities weren’t as strict as they were under the previous government.

And they began enforcing the law after president Ahmadinejad took office?

It became much more difficult. They began bearing down on cultural affairs – anything that let kids have fun. I guess that was the objective – no one’s supposed to have fun.

So last year, because of SXSW and other gigs, you were able to extend your work visas pretty much permanently.

Yeah. One thing led to another and we just kept getting better and kept making connections. Somehow we’ve managed to stay here as long as we have. We came here with virtually nothing – a guitar, a suitcase and $400.

I really don’t know how, but somehow we’ve managed. The five of us, we’re getting along stronger than we ever have. We’re very happy to be here.

We’re very hard workers. We’re very disciplined. We’ve put our lives into this. Music is our life. We can’t imagine doing anything else.

You have a new album coming out this fall?

I think in September. We’re actually still in the process of getting signed. The details should be coming out pretty soon.

Photo: farhadsamari.com
Jam, Kodi, Raam, Paya, Kami

Are you and the band touring?

We did like a mini-tour of the East Coast and West Coast, but mainly we’ve been doing a lot of gigs around New York. We’re planning a big tour for the fall.

I love traveling across the States. We’re so lucky that we get to travel around the world and meet really fun and cool people and play our music. It really doesn’t get any better than this. I think I’ve seen more of America than most Americans have.

When you’re traveling across the country, do people know your story? Aside from your Iranian fans who live here, do you find other Americans know what you’ve been through?

Well we don’t really don’t want to shove it down people’s throats. I want our music to speak for itself. I want them to go “Oh, their music is really cool.” And then they go, “Oh, dear God. They’re from Iran! Wow!” To me it’s more interesting to let the music speak for itself and let the story be secondary.

What’s really cool though is when people do find out where we’re from, the overwhelming majority of them have been supportive. We haven’t had any really negative or bad reactions. When they talk to you they really connect with you on a human level. It just goes to show the universality of everything and how our similarities far outweigh our differences. The more I travel and the more people I meet, the more I realize we have in common.

It’s great that you persisted and now you’re on the verge of finding success. There are a lot of bands in this country who think they have it hard, but you guys really had to go through the fire to get where you are.

I think it’s because of all the struggles and all the hard things that we’ve gone through, that we’re very, very grateful people. We don’t take our freedoms here for granted. We appreciate and enjoy every little thing that we have over here. I think that sets us apart from a lot of people. People in America really don’t know how good they have it a lot of the time.

In any scenario, we’ve always found ways to succeed. I’ve always felt that we’re the only ones who can prevent ourselves from achieving our own dreams and goals.

Let’s talk about the situation going on in Iran. You were probably already using Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch with your friends and relatives there before this all started, right?

Yes. Skype too. I talk with my parents on Skype. But I think it’s just fascinating to see this. It’s become the first open movement of its kind. There’s such a huge flow of information.

I don’t think in the history of mankind we’ve ever been exposed to the reality of the streets the way we have in this movement.

And it can’t be stopped. Has the government tried to shut it down by eliminating Internet access? Or do you think they’re afraid to do that?

They’ve already done so. What they’ve done also is make it slower, so it’s harder to upload or download. It’s become a very, very scary situation for all the people there now. They’re looking at all the journalists and it was becoming harder and harder to find out what the truth is on the ground. But these kids are finding ways to get around the proxys and all of that and spread the word.

The most important thing about this movement is that it’s not just about Iran. It’s about humanity and standing up for what’s right – standing up for justice and freedom. I feel so happy to see so many people around the world who’ve been supporting this cause. It’s just growing and growing.

Are you a little surprised that you wound up as a kind of conduit for news?

In a weird way, I’ve always wanted to contribute. I’ve already been in touch with a lot of musicians around the world, trying to help them come here. All the kids who believed in me, I want to give them a chance too. I want to help out in any way I can. I feel it’s the least I can do.

But as the events of the past week have unfolded, people who are looking for a voice, who are looking for someone to help them spread the word, have turned to me because I have a lot of friends on Facebook and Twitter. I realized very, very quickly that a lot of people are relying on me as a source of information.

At first I felt so powerless, because everywhere back home there are a lot of great people who are losing their lives for this cause. I just felt so powerless. I wanted to contribute in any way I could, so I just started spreading as much information as I could and getting connected with other kids and trying to connect journalists to witnesses on the ground.

Because the people on the ground have become the real journalists. All these academics and professors that they bring on television for the news, they don’t know what’s going on on the ground. They can analyze as much as they want, but it’s the kids on the streets who are seeing the reality who have to share their message.

I’m amazed at how the network is working and operating right now. People are really getting the word out. They’re becoming very organized. Even though it’s become much harder to connect, they still have all the accurate information about the latest protest and all latest news. That’s amazing. If they can just keep it up.

There are so many people in the opposition. And they’ve been very non-violent. And they have to stick to that approach. It’s just the will of the people and the will of the people has to be respected.

Following what was said today by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that the results were valid and the people needed to accept that or face the consequences and the opposition candidate, Mr. Mousavi, needed to accept that or leave the country, where do you think this will go? Will it calm down or will this get bigger?

I’m afraid to say this, but even though the opposition is growing and is taking a non-violent stance, I think there will be more blood on the streets. Because I don’t think the people are going to be happy until their will is respected. They’re not going to be silenced.

It’s just one of those really dangerous things right now. Everyone’s really looking to see what’s going to happen in this next week. It’s very scary. We’re all on the edge right now. I just hope the people keep standing together. When you see a million-and-a-half or two million people around you, how can you be afraid? We’re only afraid when we’re alone. As long as people keep seeing this huge turnout and people keep backing each other up, I really don’t think anything can stop them.

But the anti-riot police and the government are going to resort to any kind of senseless violence or any means of propaganda to suppress the people and the information. It’s a very dangerous game they’re all playing right now. I hope all the lives that have been lost will not be in vain.

So do you think that this has the potential to go on for some time or will the government get tired of it soon and put a stop to no matter what they have to do?

That’s such a hard question to answer. The situation is just so unpredictable on the ground right now. One thing I do know is that the Iranian people are a very proud people. And they’re not the type of people to back down. If you look at our history over the past hundred years, we’ve had a revolution or a coup every twenty five or thirty years. When the people’s voices start getting really loud it’s really hard to put them down.

It’s interesting that some of the people involved in these protests are some of the same people who were involved with the revolution thirty years ago.

That’s true. I think both sides are taking advantage of the experience they’ve gained over the past thirty years. Both sides have dramatically improved their game. So both the opposition and the government know which tactics they have to use and how to use them.

But I think the unpredictability of this whole Facebook and Twitter thing just caught the government off guard. They didn’t think anything would happen on such a scale. They thought maybe there would be one or two protests and then it would be over. The people have found a voice on the Internet and it’s taken on a life of its own.

It’s something they’ve never had to deal with before.

Exactly. And it’s funny, because now they’re trying to catch up with it. There were a lot of people in the government who weren’t familiar with it. They thought Facebook was some kind of organization that was conspiring against the government. Which is ridiculous, but that’s how far behind they were.

It’s not unlike President Obama using the Internet to build support for his campaign and catching Republicans off guard.

That’s true. And with regard to President Obama, I really think that he’s taking the right stance on this subject and not meddling in Iran’s affairs. The whole world has to stand in solidarity with the people and support them in any way they can, but Obama is taking a very good stance to not directly meddle or get involved. The people have to decide on their own what they want.

As soon as America gets involved, then it becomes about us.

Exactly. It just becomes an excuse for the government to say Western governments are meddling in our affairs and conspiring to overthrow the government.

Although they’re already starting to say that.

Yes, but when the U.S. government actually haven’t done done so, it makes a big difference.

You still have family in Iran. I imagine you’re very worried about them.

I can’t tell you how worried I am. It’s really heart-wrenching. It’s one of those things where you want to be back home beside them in hard times like these.

Are you worried that there will be reprisals against them for what you’re doing?

I just want the people to have a fair election. I want their will to be respected. I don’t think I’m taking a particular political or spiritual side on the subject. So I don’t see any harm in what I’m doing. I do have to take a kind of diplomatic approach to things, obviously, because there are a lot of dangers involved. But it’s now or never. This is the point of no return. We can’t turn back now. I have to do whatever I can, no matter what the price is. To be honest, I’m not really doing much. It’s those kids on the streets who are risking their lives.

It’s great that we can do this now because of the technology.

In previous fascist regimes, like Hitler or Stalin or Franco, the suppression of information was on such a large scale and people didn’t have any access to expose the lies. Because they didn’t have access to this massive train of information that is the Internet. Lies are getting exposed much more quickly now.

So I do think that time is on our side. I hope it doesn’t drag out. Because the longer it drags out, the more people will suffer.