A pair of musically gifted Chippendales sing in the Persian new year for you (which in Iran has been celebrated at the Spring Equinox since pre-BC times). Note the eyebrow action, culturally this is slightly different in Iran, it is not a come-on, it’s part of the technique of Iranian dance, part of the allure of the dancer. The guy with blackened face is the same blackened minstrel figure you’ve seen all over the world, and whom everyone from Al Jolson to Orson Wells have employed. His name is Hajji Firouz (or Khwaja Piruz). His face, covered in soot, is considered a face paint rather than having any racial implication (think of the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins for example). The roots of this are in the fire temples of Zoarastrian Iran, from pre-Islamic times where the fire-keeper came out at new year to collect people’s belongings for burning and when humour was important in keeping the forces of good (Farohar, guardians) present in a household, as they will leave if the family are unhappy. This ritual is close to the Indian idea of the cleansing fire, the havan, and also to a tradition I saw in Naples, Southern Italy when at new year people throw old furniture from first floor windows – as we say in English – out with the old, in with the new. We’ll be discussing the origins and meaning of Norooz at the National Portrait Gallery on March 23rd, 7pm for a free event to mark the time of year.
NB this song is not representative of Iranian new year culture, it is something of an anomaly, hence the humourous post.