After 44 years of living under Iran’s oppressive fundamentalist Islamic regime, the situation on the ground in the country — mass protests following the Sep. 16 murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini — has become an international crisis. In response, Taylor Hanson, of the multi-platinum and chart-topping “MMMBoppers” Hanson, has put out a widespread call for 16,000 voices to join him in recording a song in support of Iranian women and their global allies.
The session will play out on Feb. 4 at Henson Studios in Los Angeles, where 38 years ago, USA for Africa came together to record “We Are the World.” Hanson, who is no stranger to social causes, has set his sights equally high on the Voices Project, which is slotted under the newly established For Women Life Freedom nonprofit organization, a trusted center for Iran-related causes.
“The idea for The Voices Project was born as a touchpoint, a gateway to connect with the issues [in Iran] in a different way. My hope is it becomes octane towards unifying this overall movement,” says Hanson from his home in Texas.
The session will revolve around recording “Baraye – For Women, Life, Freedom,” which combines the slogan for the Iranian movement, “Woman, Life, Freedom” and Shervin Hajipour’s “Baraye.” The latter has been a long-established anthem for the movement, and thus, is up for best song for social change (a special merit award) at the upcoming Grammys.
Hanson’s awareness of what’s happening in Iran is tied with “Baraye” being in the running for this new award. Alerted to the events in Iran by an Iranian-American friend, Hanson has been posting about the protests on his socials since last October. This same friend asked Hanson if he could help get “Baraye” submitted to the Recording Academy for consideration. Hanson is the president of the Texas chapter of the Academy, and when he asked the Academy if “Baraye” was even eligible, he was informed by Academy president Harvey Mason Jr. that it was.
Hanson (photo by Jonathan Weiner)
“This cause broke my heart,” Hanson says. “My whole life, I don’t think I’ve been able to ask myself if I see any difference between the Iranian government and the Iranian people. The government [of Iran] has been seen as very much not a friend to our nation. But the people [of Iran] are the ones being oppressed.”
“Baraye – For Women, Life, Freedom” is produced by Hanson, Iranian American musician Hamid Saeidi of Grammy-winning group Opium Moon, multiple Grammy winner producer/engineer Jim Scott and producer/musician David Garza (Fiona Apple), with assistance from CJ Eiriksson. Hanson has personally reached out to his star-studded contacts list to bring as many marquee names to the session as possible; confirmed artists thus far include Rufus Wainwright, Kevin McHale, Yolanda Adams, Gus Van Sant, Alex Greenwald, Darren Criss, Ben Folds, Gina Chaves and Gene Moore.
“Considering the level of atrocity that has unfolded [in Iran] … Considering how vital this is, how critical, that it hasn’t reached the consciousness of as many people as it should, just doesn’t add up,” he says. “My thinking was, ‘What way can this movement break through?’ Music might have a real role to play here.”
The version being recorded, coincidentally on the same date as the Special Merit Ceremony, is in English, with a new chorus, one that will be easy for anyone to sing without rehearsal. To join the session, artists can register here. It’s worth noting that the session is not restricted to famous musicians, and anyone can participate by submitting their voice remotely.
“Music is always powerful,” he says. “This recording event at Henson helps communicate, ‘You need to see what’s going on in Iran. This is something we can’t ignore. This is something we need to advocate for.’ At the very least, we must treat this as something that needs to be top of mind for our leaders because it’s only going to get worse.”
The target release date for “Baraye – For Women, Life, Freedom” is Feb. 10, the day before the global Iran protests marking 44 years since the coup and subsequent regime change in Iran, which forced scores of citizens into the diaspora.
As far as possibly becoming a target by the Iranian government, adds Hanson: “I would have to be blind, deaf and dumb to not realize we’re standing up for a cause that is dangerous. With any call to action against something that is violent, you take some risk. Inaction is what allows violent action to proliferate. … I think any risk I am taking by calling people together to sing for a cause is a fraction of the risks thousands have already taken to stand up for their lives. I believe that this movement came to me for a reason. How many people must die, [and] how many people must live oppressed for us to think it matters? What we are doing is shining of light so bright it cannot be ignored or overlooked.”