Israeli-born musician and actor Liraz Charhi—like many others of Persian ancestry—is enthralled by women fighting for freedom in Iran.
Liraz, as she’s often called, has often felt incredibly moved by these empowered revolutionaries. They’re risking their lives by removing their head scarves and face coverings in public. The women are rebelling to signal their disgust over the way mullahs have been ruling their country for more than 40 years.
In fact, Liraz’s recently released album, Roya, was recorded in secret in Istanbul with female musicians from Iran. The album identifies them as “anonymous” in the credits to protect them from retribution in their homeland.
“I couldn’t be more proud to release Roya today, when the Iranian women musicians—who are actually now protesting in the streets of Iran—are collaborating with me,” Liraz tells Pancouver over Zoom from Tel Aviv.
Her Jewish family left Iran shortly before the 1979 revolution that brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power.
Iranian women—as well as many men—are now demonstrating against his 83-year-old successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He became supreme ruler after Khomeini died in 1989.
Watch the video of the title track from Roya by Liraz Charhi.
Roya is Liraz’s third album dedicated to Iranian women
Liraz notes that Roya was recorded with a lot of joy. But it also came with a great deal of fear because of the ways in which women are repressed in Iran.
She says the women who were flown into Istanbul played the tar (Iranian lute) and other instruments.
It’s Liraz’s third album dedicated to the women of Iran following Naz (2017) and Zan (2020). In the past, she’s recorded online with female musicians in Iran, but this time, she did it for the first time in-person.
Roya is also a female name of Persian origin and translates into English as “dream” or “fantasy”.
“Roya was actually the third chapter of this dream of meeting together and protesting,” Liraz says. “This album has a lot of text of protesting and asking for freedom.”
Elle magazine in France included Roya in a recent list of this year’s top 10 albums in the world.
That is a happy weekend !! Thank you ELLE magazine France @elleusa MOJO magazine for honoring ROYA on the top 10 !! 2022 albums @mojo4music and Trouw Germany for a great review ♦️ https://t.co/rdHvXtOLXm
— Liraz Naz (@LirazCharhi) November 12, 2022
On November 23, Liraz will perform for the first time in Vancouver in a concert at the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre. It’s part of the Chutzpah! Festival, which celebrates Jewish arts and culture.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun because I’m going to feel like I’m home,” Liraz says.
She’s heard that there’s a substantial Iranian population in Metro Vancouver. And she’s thrilled to hear that they’ve been holding frequent demonstrations to support their compatriots in Iran.
“I would love to meet them because normally, I do not perform to Iranian people,” she notes. “There are so many things to celebrate in this event. I can’t wait.”
Watch the video for “Azizam” from Liraz Charhi’s Roya album.
A “very, very good Persian girl”
She recently played in Germany and was ecstatic to see her fans carrying the Iranian flag at her shows. It reminded her that the world is thinking about the courageous women of Iran.
Liraz says that her parents left Iran in the 1970s because they were tired of having to hide the fact that they are Jewish.
Yet as she grew up in Israel, she concedes that she publicly neglected her roots, preferring to be like a free Israeli artist.
She starred in the 2004 Israeli film Turn Left at the End of the World, which earned her a best actress nomination from the Israeli Film Academy.
At home, however, she says that she truly was the “very, very good Persian girl”.
“So, I had these two extreme characters,” Liraz reveals. “I always tried to connect them together.”
It was only after she started spending a lot of time in Los Angeles as an actor that she began to truly appreciate her Iranian roots. There are upward of a million people of Iranian ancestry living in LA, so she had Persian friends there and many Persian dining options.
She was still spending part of her time in that period in Tel Aviv, shuttling back and forth for work. In the 2012 U.S. film A Late Quartet, she played the girlfriend of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
But eventually, she tired of having to audition for roles in Los Angeles and decided to take control over her career by focusing much more on music.
“I’m very much inspired from the psychedelic ’70s Iranian music,” Liraz says.
Watch the “Tanah Mirahsam//Dancing on My Own – Robyn” video from Zan.
Persian poets reflected in the songs
She also continued acting in Israel, playing a secret agent in 2020 on the Israeli TV show Tehran.
As a songwriter, she’s been inspired by Persian poets, ranging from the more modern Forough Farrokhzad, who died in 1967, to masters from the past, such as Ferdowsi and Rumi. In fact, Rumi’s poetry inspired the final song on Zan.
Liraz points out that emotions and situations can be described in Farsi in a “very poetic and special way”.
“In Farsi, there are a lot of metaphors that we cannot explain in any other language,” Liraz adds.
“I always get inspired by Persian literature and poetry,” she continues. “Also, there is lots of space to protest via this poetry.”
Liraz Charhi will play the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre on November 23 as part of the Chutzpah! Festival in Vancouver.