Happy Nowruz: Celebrate Persian New Year with these songs

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Bennett Purser

“Sornaye Nowruz” is an old, traditional song. Nassir Nassirzadeh recommends this new recording by the contemporary folk ensemble called Rastak. Credit: YouTube.

The Persian New Year — Nowruz, meaning “new day” — is here and it celebrates spring and fresh beginnings. Hundreds of millions of people globally have celebrated this holiday for more than 3000 years, in countries far beyond Iran that were once part of the Persian empire, which stretched from the Balkans to Mongolia. 

In addition to delicious food, the holiday involves tons of great music. Press Play hears some songs recommended by Nassir Nassirzadeh, who was born in Panorama City and whose parents immigrated to the U.S. right after the Iranian Revolution. 

“I still have never been to Iran. … But I do my best to soak up the culture, especially with my children too, and just appreciate especially through traditions like Nowruz,” Nassirzadeh says.

Rastak - “Sornaye Nowruz”

“It's a traditional song going way back … it's over 3000 years this holiday. Over the last … several years, we've heard this beautiful new recording from this contemporary folk ensemble called Rastak. It's actually a 12-minute long song, and it constitutes the six different regions of Iran and five or more dialects.”

Andy - “Daram Miram Beh Tehran”

“Andy obviously is almost like a Madonna … where you can go by that name, and Iranians all over will know who they are. He's one of the biggest Iranian pop stars — actually the first one to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This song in particular … it was played at my wedding. 

… It's talking about going to Iran for the new year. … and just returning home, and how much he missed his country and the smell of the alleys and the neighborhood. And there's a lot of great imagery and poetry in the song, but it's just a really nice pop song. But to me, it's like the nostalgia for something that I haven't experienced.”

Omid Walizadeh - “Golhaye Rang A Rang”

“He is an Iranian composer and producer that has a lot of hip-hop roots … He's found a really great way to mash up classic Iranian music with really inventive, clever beats and transitions and so forth.” 

Shervin Hajipour - “Bahar Omad” (“spring came”)

“He's predicting — in this song — a future where hip-hop performers are playing at Milad Tower, which is one of the biggest sites in the capital of the country. And they don't worry about any police or anyone fleeing the country. They want the artists to stay in the homeland. So one of … the translated lyrics says, ‘The sky is cold, and we are frozen, but the spring is coming, and we're hearing its sound.’ So he really has this optimism that things will change.”

Nassir Nassirzadeh (right), age 15, celebrates Nowruz with his mom in 1997.  Photo courtesy of Nassir Nassirzadeh 

What else to know about the holiday? 

Families partake in Haftsin (“haft” means seven, “sin” means the letter “s”)

Nassirzadeh says Iranians are typically superstitious, and a big tradition is the Haftsin, an arrangement of seven symbolic items whose names begin with the letter “s.” They include:

  1. Sabzeh - sprouted grass - growth 
  2. Samanu - pudding - power
  3. Senjed - Russian olive - love
  4. Somaq - sumac - sunrise 
  5. Serkeh - vinegar - patience
  6. Seeb - apple - beauty
  7. Seer - garlic - health

“Sabzeh is probably the central part of these displays — it’s sprouted grass, which is a symbol of growth and regrowth. And the new year lasts for about 13 days. … Because they feel like 13 is an unlucky number, they have a tradition called Sizdeh Bedar where they go on the 13th day following the new year, and they go to the parks to do picnics and barbecues. And they take that sprouted grass and they throw them out.”

Nowruz is particularly powerful this year amid recent massive protests in Iran over women’s rights 

Nassirzadeh says while there's hope, many lives have been affected this protest movement. 

"Some people are not able to be with some of those loved ones because if they're imprisoned, or if they're no longer here, or anything like that. ... It's going to be bittersweet, but ... it's even more powerful than ever. Because with all the symbolism of change, I really hope that everything that has conspired is moving us toward having something more progressive, where people have more freedoms, and are able to enjoy some of the things we take for granted here."