For a long time now, it has been possible to make interesting discoveries thanks to Pharaway Records and their extensive catalogue. In addition to a great variety of psychedelic and Anatolian Pop albums from Turkey, Pharaway also explorers countries such as Afghanistan and Iran.

Münir Tireli

Pharaway has released pre-revolution Iranian pop, funk, rock and psychedelic vinyl compilations since 2013 on a regular basis. In addition to these compilations – each consisting of two LPs – the label also released a kind of  “best of” of funky king Shahram Shabpareh, funk and easy-listening sitar icon Mehrpouya and Ramesh – who is the heroine of our article. Similarly, Finders Keepers has released a Googoosh LP and a Pomegranates compilation, while Now Again pressed Kourosh in vinyl. I first became acquainted with Ramesh during my personal musical odyssey, because of one of the above-mentioned compilation LPs. As I put the needle to wax, a music of groove and psychedelia started to flow into my heart. And so began my journey through the memories of Ramesh in the collective mind of Iran and also via her reconstructed identity, falsified by individuals who deemed her real life as somehow not melodramatic enough.

After watching several Youtube videos and engaging in endless research, I discovered a lady who had many things to tell, but who avoided speaking openly, as she seemed to sense the impending collapse and destruction of Iran. I also discovered a self-confident singer who was happy to scream in protest in her recording of “Moondanam Az Boodanet”, but was a bit introspective when she turned her face off camera. There was a plethora of record covers and bits of internet information relating to Ramesh. And so armed with some well-thought-out research questions, I began to examine the semi mythical story of Ramesh. 

Because Iran’s culture was thoroughly destroyed following the 1979 revolution, the modernist paradigm survived only in the Iranian diaspora. Therefore the era before 1979 is seen by many in almost mythological terms. On the other hand the deep seeded Persian civilization offered a path to Persian intellectuals in spite of the revolution. The Persian diaspora in particular continued to beat out a cultural path for itself free of the restrictions of the theological state. Still, isolation from the motherland created a historical caesura, so that these blank moments in history became filled with myths.

The legend of Ramesh was fashioned out of a fake sexual-preference rumor which was used in liner notes of a compilation LP. According to this fictional story, Ramesh was killed by stoning after the 1979 Revolution. Although this blatant lie endowed Ramesh with the charisma of a fallen angel of the western LGBT scene, videos and other material found on the web evidenced a more prosaic fate – that she is in fact living out her retirement in the USA.

So thanks to both myth and fact, I had the chance to really get to know Ramesh . 

Ramesh is a musician and singer who received a traditional education in Persian music. She reminds us therefore of Neşe Karaböcek in Turkey, who had an eclectic personality fashioned by both east and west. 

Although Ramesh started her recording career in 1964 with Persian and Azeri music, she gradually began incorporating western elements in her music. During her western transformation she also became a strong rival to Persian super-star Googoosh. Her late phase was also reflected in her live performance which made use of a western-style band.

Ramesh was a child of the 1953 coup, in terms of music and social background. Mohammad Mosaddegh, who was the first democratically elected prime minister of Iran, was deposed after the coup of 19th August 1953, supported by MI6 and CIA.

 Mosaddegh had given the order to examine British Petroleum’s accounts and to critically evaluate BP’s access to petroleum of Iran. BP resisted this order and as a result the parliament issued a bid to nationalize BP’s investment in Iran. It was this bid that triggered the 1953 coup.

As a result of the coup Reza Shah Pehlavi came to office, and in this new period a new process of westernization began. While society became more affluent, the migration from rural areas to urban centers posed problems. This shift in population was also one of the causes of the 1979 revolution. That and the dictatorial manner of the Shah’s rule. The golden age of Persian pop music was lived out in the 1960s and 1970s in westernized Tehran. In this period the music market in Iran offered a wide spectrum of musical genres, and one of the representatives of Persian Pop was Ramesh Azar Mohebbi (b. 13 November 1946). Ramesh, whose roots were in classical Persian music, began her recording career in 1964 as a performer of Persian music, then marked by a certain elitism as well as Indian and Azeri influences. Ramesh experimented with western music in a traditional context much like Suat Sayın, İsmet Nedim, Orhan Gencebay and Vedat Yıldırımbora in Turkey. She sometimes used western instruments and western rhythms in her traditional performance. In this period, which started in 1966, we can hear western rhythms such as rhoumba and bossa nova and also the sounds of a surf guitar and a Combo organ in the music of Ramesh.

These coy attempts at westernization became more pronounced in 1968, when she began to use a completely western harmonization. She made duets with Aref, Manoocheer and Vigen, sang in Persian movies as the dubbed over voice of the leading women. In this era she performed the compositions of Ostaad Ataollah Khorram, who began his career by giving his compositions to Vigen, the first pop star of Iran . In the 1971 -1972 period, she started to make recordings with a studio orchestra with a brass section. “Khorshid Khoonoom” was the first recorded material of Ramesh delving into funk. “Delakam” was also opened the gate to the typical funky sound of Ramesh with its wah-wah guitars. 

In 1973, she made her official rock music debut with Ghorooba Ghashangan, which included hard drum beats and its intro with wah-wah guitars. While the main melody persisted as an Azeri mougham(an Azeri folk composition), the orchestration brought the song deep into western territory, with its organ and wah-wah guitar lines and riffs. 

The harmonica used in the song also gave a nod to Ennio Morricone spaghetti western soundtracks. Ramesh firmed up her affinity for brass dominated funky pop with “Tohmat” . During the time she began to move in a funk direction with hybrid pieces, the traditional base of the songs were usually of Azeri background.

Eskender Moforadzade’s composition Namaz was also exemplary from that period. Recording technology in Iran began to improve in the period of 1973-74, and this improvement brought with it a further westernization of Ramesh’s music.

 “Nagoo Naa” was also a ground breaking piece in the 1974-75 period of Ramesh. With this song, funk cemented itself as a natural element in Ramesh’s music. “Nagoo Naa” was also the beginning of her collaboration with the famous composer and arranger Manouchehr Chesm Azar, one of the most outstanding composers of modern Persian music, who worked with Dariush, Googoosh and Sattar in addition to Ramesh and is still to this day an active and a productive musician .

In 1976 Ramesh’s most energetic song to date was released: “Moondanam Boodanet”. The composition and the arrangement belonged to Manouchehr Chesm Azar. “Moondanam Boodanet” was a trademark of Ramesh’s rock and funk fusion. Now here was a woman with persona who could scream along to a music forged out brass and wild guitar solos! Although she bowed her head coyly in her TV appearance, she opened the doors to certain things in Iran that would be later limited to the music of the diaspora.

“Roodkhooneha” which was Ramesh’s most screened hit on Iran TV was a composition of Sadegh Nojooki. It was one of Ramesh’s greatest hits with Moog, brass and bongo furry.

“Montazer” is one of the rare Ramesh compositions with Azeri moogamand an arrangement of strings and backing vocals. It was a good sample of western and eastern fusion with use of the tar (a Persian-Azeri string instrument played with a short bow) in the transitional phase of the song. 

In “Sazesh” we witness another Ramesh piece with Moog. “Afsoos” was another composition of Manouchehr Chesm Azar, which also found its place in a Beyaz Kelebekler (White Butterflies) cassette with Turkish lyrics, released in Germany. This song was performed in a Fereydoun Farrokhzad TV show as a duet with Farrokhzad like “Moondamat Boodanet” which was released in the Pharaway Records’ Ramesh album.

 “Tak” was also a duet she made with Farrokhzad and released as a single. The flip side of this single was “Nish” which had an Arabic and eastern influences in its arrangement.

We don’t know exactly when she moved to Los Angeles after the 1979 Revolution. This period of flight must have been fairly low-key, since vocal rumors were permitted to circulate that she had been stoned to death.

Happily I discovered a Youtube video filming her in her LA concert in Tehran Cabaret in 1984. She was performing in one of her glamour suits with a group including Manouchehr Chesm Azar.

In the year 1996 she made an album called “Jahane Sevom”. This album was produced with the straightened economic means of the diaspora community. In the year 2003, she appeared on Faramarz Aslani’s album featuring composition of Rumi poems called “The Beloved is Here”. In this album she collaborated with Aslani and Dariush and made her best performance after 1979. It was her last known recorded performance. In 2003 she performed a farewell concert with a big band. In this concert she gave a nod to her good old “groove” and then took her exit from performing. After terminating her career, her only voice was heard in an interview aired on Pars TV which was located in USA, making broadcasts for the Persian audience.

Although Ramesh continues to live a secluded life, she is being discovered by new audiences from all over the world on a daily basis. Her compilations have been printed by Caltex which is a Persian record company in USA. These albums are available on streaming platforms such as Spotify, Tidel and iTunes. Besides these albums, Ramesh’s appearances on TV can be viewed on Youtube which is open to public use.

Although Ramesh was not a typical group music singer, the way she lived her life and experimented with musical styles was unique for a singer with such a traditional background. She displayed a fusion of 1970s Persian pop with eastern and western elements and funky impacts containing intros of east blended with quite experimental western forays, with the help of talented and visionary arrangers and composers.

While creating this funky Persian pop, she availed herself to a great extent of Azeri Persian music. Her local and native attitude was underpinned by wah-wah guitars, brass, strings and synthesizers. Her melancholy vocals and funky attitude made Ramesh’s music a unique one. If she was partly forgotten by Persian audiences, the reason is mainly the destruction of the intellectual milieu that could appreciate her experiments and attitude.