Ebrahim Hamedi, known to Persian music lovers as Ebi, Mr. Voice of the World, hopes one day to fulfil a lifelong dream: to perform a concert in his native Iran.
But it’s easier said than done: since 1977, Hamedi — who plays Scotiabank Arena Saturday — has been dividing his time between Los Angeles and Marbella, Spain, living in exile after the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and any liberal cultural policies that existed at the time.
The current authoritarian regime has banned music and made outcasts of Ebi and other popular Iranian stars like Faegheh “Googoosh” Atashin, Andranik “Andy” Madadian, Aref Arefkia, Dariush Eghbali, Faramarz Aslani, Leila Forouhar and Shahram Shabpareh.
“It’s one of my biggest wishes but, unfortunately, it is not possible,” said Hamedi last Friday via Zoom from L.A. “But we have some concerts where people come from Iran, for example, come to Turkey, other countries around Iran, which is very good and makes me so happy”
At 72, Hamedi is optimistic.
“I’m still thinking that before I quit I’m going to have a concert in Iran,” said the Iranian icon. “Maybe the next six months, maybe one year, maybe 10 years: I’m just hoping and I think it will happen.”
Born in Tehran, Hamedi began his career as a teenager, forming the band the Sun Boys.
“We did gigs and private parties and then, after a couple of years, I went to the club which was called Cuccini, which was very, very famous club in Tehran by that time. Then I started working with the band by the name of Black Cats. Then I separated and I start singing solo.”
In 1977, Hamedi performed in a New York club and was invited to perform for a few months at an L.A. cabaret.
“At this time, the revolution started,” he said. “The cities were hosting demonstrations and I decided to stay a little bit longer and see what was going to happen in Iran. The revolution happened and there was no place for me in Iran, so I stayed here in Los Angeles.”
In subsequent years, Hamedi, who sings exclusively in Farsi, has carried on recording songs and albums, much of his music distributed throughout global Persian communities via cassette, while he fills arenas around the world.
Songs such as “Sabad Sabad,” “Goriz” and “Ghorbat” have kept Hamedi current, and while some of them are about love, some are protest songs critical of the policies of the current regime and its numerous human rights infringements.
One thing is certain: Iran is never far from Ebi’s mind.
“Every day I’m thinking about my country, every day,” Hamedi said. “A lot of things happen there that are ugly, it’s brutal. And the last 40 years I’ve sung many, many songs which were about my country, about people, and I’m still having a connection with the people in Iran.
“We have a rich country. We have resources like oil and many, many things, and people are poor. They don’t have anything to eat. Most of them, they are going through garbage to find food. It makes me very, very sad.”
Hamedi is aware that his music shines a light on political frustrations but feels he could be a stronger contributor.
“I’m doing it, but it’s not enough,” he said. “I think I have to do more. But I’m just an artist. I’m not a political representative. I’m a conduit of positivity.”
One positive effect of his current the Love Project tour is its support of the With You Foundation — a charity founded by Ebi’s wife, Mahshid Hamedi Boromand — which grants wishes to Farsi- and Iranian-speaking children in life-threatening conditions. Money from each concert ticket sold goes toward the cause.
“Wherever I go, I try to pass on positivity, which is the whole purpose of the With You Foundation: to bring joy and a positive impact on some Farsi-speaking children’s lives,” Hamedi said. “That’s the inspiration behind the tour.”
The last time Ebi performed in Toronto, it was four shows at what is now Meridian Hall. This time it’s at the more cavernous Scotiabank Arena. Hamedi said one of his biggest challenges is choosing which songs to perform.
“I have about 250 songs and my band, my son, my wife are helping me to choose the songs. For me to decide what I’m going to sing, it’s hard for me because I love all my songs.”
He also admitted that advances in technology frustrate him, because there was a point in his career where he could adjust the set list on a whim if he felt like playing something else. Now that there’s video accompaniment, the song selection is pretty much locked in.
But he’s looking forward to performing here.
“Toronto is one of the best cities with fantastic people,” Hamedi said. “They are very kind and I can say they’re one of the best crowds I’ve ever had at my concerts.
“I can call that city ‘Little Iran,’ because everything is there. Anything you want is in Toronto.”
On a lighter note — and further proof that Simon Cowell’s tentacles stretch to every corner of the Earth — Ebi served as a judge for 2020’s “Persia’s Got Talent,” filmed in … Sweden.
It’s not something Hamedi is thrilled about, but he realizes that a homegrown talent show can’t exist in Iran at the moment.
“I wish we could have this show someplace else instead of Sweden,” Hamedi said. “If we go to Turkey, we could have a lot of talent from Iran. The talents that we had in that show they came from Europe, from Germany, Holland and all around. So the talent selection that we had was limited, but I had a lot of fun.”
But there’s another problem: if Iranian citizens leave the country to participate, what happens to them when they return?
“I have sympathy for my people in Iran,” said Hamedi. “As I said before, they are truly suffering and the situation has reached a boiling point. Any day, something could happen because people come out for demonstrations to get their salary and they arrest them, they beat them, they kill them. The government, they don’t want to do anything for the people. The government is taking care of themselves.
“Hopefully my people can do something about it. They have to be together and hopefully they have a better future. It’s in their hands.”
And he’s looking forward to continuing to fill their hearts with hope with his uplifting songs.
Hamedi refuses to call those who attend his shows fans.
“They are not my fans; they are my friends: I feel that they are very close to me. That’s why I can’t quit my job. I love to sing because I love this job.”
Correction — June 1, 2022: This article was updated from a previous version which said Hamedi was born in Khorramabad.
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