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Legend of Golha

More than half a century after the first Golha, meaning ‘flowers’, was broadcast by Tehran Radio, its memory is still alive in the minds of all those who listened to these programmes. The skilful combination of classical Persian poetry and traditional music, accompanied by the delightful voices of the leading singers of the day proved to be a magical formula. It was so successful that the ‘flowers’ soon proliferated, with titles such as ‘everlasting flowers’,  ‘a single stem’ and ‘green leaf’, each focussing on a different aspect of Persian poetry and music.

The man behind all this was the late Davoud Pirnia who, after many years in the civil service, had sought refuge in the haven of mystical poetry and traditional music. He and a circle of friends who shared his enthusiasm held regular gatherings in a quiet place a short distance from Tehran, where they enjoyed reading and discussing poetry and listening to music. This inspired him to bring this pleasure to the homes of everyone through radio broadcasts. The series continued with enormous success for many years until the Revolution in 1979. Bringing together the foremost and best musicians, vocalists, literary critics, poets and announcers, it is still considered as one of the most sophisticated and outstanding radio programmes ever produced.

No one has forgotten the Golha, but it was Jane Lewisohn, research associate at SOAS, University of London, who had the idea of tracking down the tapes and compiling a digital archive. During her six year stay in Iran when she was studying at Shiraz University, she was an avid listener of the Golha programmes. Many years later, going through the tapes she had brought back from Iran, Jane Lewisohn realized that nobody had ever carried out any serious research on this unique treasure of Persian poetry and music.

This prompted her in 2005 to embark upon a major research project under the auspices of the British Library and SOAS. It involved several trips to Iran and other countries, visiting many institutions, and interviewing numerous private collectors and musicians. Finally the task is now completed. Almost all the surviving tapes have been copied and digitalized, and are now kept in the sound archives of the British Library for access by researchers of Persian music and literature, as well as  the general public.

In this multimedia report, we hear Jane Lewisohn’s own account of her quest in search of the missing Golha tapes.

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