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ABC News 24 3pm News (w'end) -

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(IRANIAN ACOUSTIC MUSIC)

It's a world of hope and passion, a side to Iran
you've probably never seen before. In the art houses of the capital,
an exciting, new era is dawning.

Reza Koolaghani's part of a new wave
of artists, finding their feet
and finding a voice.

For Reza's whole life,
Iran has been dominated by Islamic clerics
who've stifled art and culture. But little by little
the people have been pushing back.

For more than a decade,
the world's attention has been focused on Iran's
controversial nuclear program. But now, a pragmatic President
has agreed to rein it in. And inside Iran, an intriguing
transformation is under way.

This is a young country. At least two thirds of the populatio
is under 40. They're relishing a newfound freedom The pace of change is building. But how far can Iran's youth push it And just how far
will they be allowed to go?

APPLAUSE

Reza's producer is Ehsan Rasoulof,
the son of a wealthy banker.

It seems such a vibrant time,
such a beautiful, blossoming time?

The golden years?

Ehsan believes that, in Reza, he's found a real diamond
in the rough.

Ehsan's gallery is regarded
as one of Tehran's most prominent art spaces. It's a hub of creativity. At tonight's reception,
the city's young, bold and beautiful are out in force.

But you don't have to be a seasoned
culture vulture to notice that here,
they drink coffee, not champagne.

While they're pushed back
as far as practical, the ubiquitous headscarves
are de rigueur. So, too,
is the long jacket or manteau. Women can't be seen in public
without them.

INSTALATION MUSIC Up on the roof, a new installation
is wowing the crowd.

It's a very complex life
by the look of it here. Yeah, yeah.
And also very colourful, I think. There's such an artistic explosion
here, it's become a very lucrative market.

Wow!

It's hard to imagine how the clerics
in charge ever hoped to keep these people down

The hope of today
had its beginnings in tragedy. In the basement, Ehsan tells me
he built this extraordinary space in honour of his brother,
a budding photographer, after he was killed in a plane crash

Since then, Ehsan's been
on a mission to foster young talent, using his privilege
to give them a launchpad into the expanding art scene. As well as producing music and art, across town he
runs a bookshop and cafe, yet another outlet
for Iran's youthful creativity.

Before, uh...revolution, we had
a culture of hanging out in cafes. There were many intellectual people,
and many, many famous writers, poets, who went to cafes
to share their ideas. A very French kind of an idea. Yes, very French, like Sartre. Over the last few years, that
cafe culture has been re-emerging. It offers Iranians
a relatively free space to meet, talk and exchange ideas.

REZA SINGS

At a more downbeat coffee shop
in the backstreets of Tehran, Reza hones words and music
with his poet mates.

He came to Tehran from a seaside tow
on the Persian Gulf, Bandar-Abbas,
renowned for its musicians. But making it big in the capital
isn't easy, and the future was looking bleak.

For musicians who want make a living Iran's Ministry of Culture
and Islamic Guidance holds the key. It plays the role of censor
and cultural enforcer. Without the Ministry's permission,
you can't perform or release CDs. But, with Ehsan's help and patronage
Reza was able to get their approval.

Everyone here
knows there are still limits. Musicians and artists in Iran are still being thrown in gaol
for breaking the rules. And Reza's careful
to avoid mixing music and politics.

It's a difficult path that Ehsan's
helping musicians to navigate. Tonight,
he's taking me to a rehearsal with one
of his most promising prospects.

Bomrani is developing
a sort of Iranian gypsy-punk.

The band's music and lyrics
have a raucous sense of the absurd. It's about a guy who stole the sun
for his lover, and now he's nagging
about why the morning never came. Where's the sun? He doesn't see the point! Dude, you gave it
to your girlfriend! Yeah. There's nothing
obviously controversial here, but it's the kind of thing
that censors, in years gone by, would have found hard to stomach.

Bomrani
used to be an underground band, which meant they
couldn't perform in public. Instead they
held secret, impromptu gigs.

But as the authorities
relaxed their controls, Bomrani spread their wings,
played more gigs, and eventually signed up with Ehsan, who helped them get official
permission to perform, release a CD, and hopefully
find commercial success.

So, are these guys your superstars? Ah...yeah! You know, I love them, you know, they are really
like some kind of family. And you're the godfather! No! LAUGHTER

The Bomrani boys are hard at work
on material for their new album. If it's successful, there'll be more domestic
performances across Iran and possibly even a chance
to tour abroad later this year.

Like Reza, though, they know
there are limits to their freedom.

Despite the recent thaw
in relations with the United States, a potent symbol
of the historical enmity that has existed
between the two countries can be found right in the middle
of Tehran. It's the old US Embassy,
now a well-preserved museum, with entry by appointment only.

When religious hardliners
seized control of Iran after the Islamic revolution of 1979
radicals captured the Embassy and held 52 US diplomats
and embassy employees hostage for more than a year.

This place was dubbed
"The Nest of Spies." And from it, the clerics
fashioned a really powerful symbol of a toxic American culture. But they
didn't just ban rock 'n' roll. They set about censoring all manner
of things deemed un-Islamic. And yet, in the decades since then,
try as they might, they've been unable
to maintain that grip on all of the Iranian people. People
have gone through a revolution. That's a huge scar on any society. Thomas Erdbrink
is one of the few Western journalist allowed to be based in Iran. He's lived here since 2002. If you look at the Iran of 15 years,
14 years ago, when I came, it's a completely different country
compared to the Iran of now. I'm wearing jeans. I'm wearing a jeans shirt. At the time, people would not... This is talking about 14 years ago,
people would not wear jeans in this country, or only maybe
at private parties, or other things. I had a backpack. People would point to me
in the streets, because they just - they thought it was funny,
a backpack. These kids now are more hip,
you know, than I will ever be. No matter how, uh...how hard I try. So, what I'm trying to say is that society has undergone
tremendous change in these 14 years. And that this change, it has been allowed
from the top onwards.

In 2009, he witnessed millions
of moderates taking to the streets to protest against the re-election
of the hard-line President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The response was brutal.

But it put the hardliners on notice. Now, a loose coalition
of pragmatists and reformers, led by the new President,
Hassan Rouhani, have won power, and it's they who've been
gradually loosening the reins. Will they allow Iran to become,
you know, the next Paris of the Middle East? No, that's a step too far. Will they allow a certain amount
of change? Yes. Of course, the nuclear agreement,
which comes after eight years of pressures and sanctions,
and having the feeling that there's no light at the end of the tunnel, of course that nuclear agreement
gives a lot of hope to people. Ah, the fact that foreign companies
are coming back. Ah, the fact that your country
is no longer mentioned in the news, in the first or the second
or the third item, that is something
very positive to people. Regardless of who's in power,
those who defy the system can get brutal treatment. More than 800 Iranians
are currently behind bars for their political
or religious beliefs, their human rights work,
or journalism.

When a group called 25 Band
filmed this video in north-east Iran they broke all the rules.

Not only was the lead singer a woman she didn't follow
the strict dress code either.

The director of photography,
Ahmad Saneghe, was arrested at the airport
as he tried to flee.

He was sentenced
to two years in prison, but got out after four months
and fled to Turkey.

I've had to travel to Istanbul
to find out what happened to him.

The time in prison
was enough to leave its mark. And the backstage buzz just doesn't
grab him the way it used to.

Lead singer Tamin managed to escape before the authorities
caught up with her.

Before she left Iran,
Tamin tried to fit in, singing to women-only audiences,
staying underground, but it was never enough.

Tamin's fans
are a real source of strength. Some even fly out from Tehran
to catch these performances.

For all the onstage exuberance,
though, she too longs to go home.

For Tamin, the recent relaxation
of the rules just isn't enough. Just being a woman,
and wanting to be yourself, is still out of bounds. Iran won't let half of its populatio
find a voice on stage.

And make no mistake. Back in Tehran, there are plenty of
young people praying for a miracle. They continue to perform and create
underground, despite the very real threat
of prison. There's so much censorship
and real fear here that people who want to get together and play covers
of Western rock 'n' roll have to do it in secret. But tonight we've been invited
to a private little gig by some very talented
and brave young people.

This young garage band
is rehearsing for an underground gig to be held here at the weekend. It's taken us all afternoon
just to persuade them to let us film this way. And fair enough. The police interrupted a performance
the week before, asking suspiciously about the noise. But a friend
managed to keep them at bay. And, at any stage, they fear there
could be another knock on the door, black marks on their files,
even arrests.

There's just so much enthusiasm
and talent in this room, it's a shame you can't see it all. But these people do want to be seen. The youth of Iran want to be heard,
they want to have a voice.

Iran has a rich history
of poetry, art and music.

Hard-liners in the old clerical elit
may hark back, not very far back, to a time when the values
of the Islamic revolution were strictly enforced. But so many Iranians long for more, looking forward to an era
where kids can play rock 'n' roll without fearing the police
and prison. And current efforts
to simply ease the pressure won't satisfy those dreams.

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