Grammy-winning artists from around the world have lent their talents to an album created secretly by an Iranian composer and producer who was once jailed for his music.
Mehdi Rajabian contacted musicians, singers, conductors, sound engineers and designers through social media to ask them to feature in his new age classical record, It Arrives.
The album was put together in his basement in the northern city of Sari. Rajabian, 32, has previously spent time in prison in Iran, where music and other art forms can be regulated and censored.
With a host of Grammy wins and nominations between them, artists including guitarist, pianist and ukulele player Daniel Ho, saxophonist Jeff Coffin, jazz pianist Taylor Eigsti, drummer MB Gordy, singer and pianist Nicole Zuraitis, cellist Peter Jacobson, singer Priya Darshini, flautist Wouter Kellerman, violinist Curtis Stewart and conductor Amy Andersson collaborated on the record.
Among his credits, Jacobson has worked with Dr Dre and can be heard playing cello in TV shows including The Walking Dead and The Twilight Zone, while drummer MB Gordy has worked with everyone from Green Day to John Legend and recorded for films including the Harry Potter and Die Hard series.
Saxophonist Coffin, who is a member of renowned US rock group Dave Matthews Band, said Rajabian got in touch through Facebook and later sent over audio files for him to record remotely in his studio in Nashville.
“I wasn’t aware of his incredible journey at the time,” he told Sky News. “To think someone could be jailed for making music is not even in the back of my mind let alone a real and ever-present threat as it is for him.”
The composer’s music is “a testament to the human spirit,” he adds. “We must give rise and voice to those who are being repressed and being silent is not an option.”
Other artists who have collaborated with Rajabian told Sky News they are proud to be part of the unusual project.
“I found it hard to believe that in today’s world there are still musicians who can’t make their musical voices heard,” said Kellerman, a South African flautist who is known for his works commemorating Nelson Mandela and a South African version of Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You with the Ndlovu Youth Choir, which made headlines following its release in 2018.
“The music Mehdi sent me was beautiful, and it is incredible that he has created such lovely music in his limited circumstances,” he said.
‘His story was so incredible that initially I didn’t even believe he was a real person’
Eigsti said he was inspired by Rajabian’s courage “in the face of so many risks and such an unthinkably frustrating and unfair situation… his love for creation is so apparent in his heartfelt and powerful music”.
“He is a wonderful musician and composer, and introduced me to the breathtaking melodies and mesmerising rhythms of Iranian music,” said Ho. “I was thrilled when he invited me to play on his new album and honored to be a contributing voice in sharing his beautiful culture.”
“His story was so incredible that initially I didn’t even believe he was a real person,” said Zuraitis. “He was looking for a jazz singer who could improvise over his music and asked me to participate; it was a no-brainer for me to lend my voice to help his project come to light despite all the darkness he’s facing.”
Rajabian says he would “never have been able to produce music” without the “help and persistence” of the musicians who feature on the record.
Communicating on email, he told Sky News: “I believe in the freedom of music and I will fight for it until the end of my life…
“I will never censor myself, even if I go back to prison again, I will produce whatever I want and whenever I feel the need to scream, be it through the medium of art or physically, I will definitely scream and not be silent.
“I’m not brave, I’m just doing my duty.”