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TIME ZONES | TWO HOURS WITH A BRITISH POP STAR -- IN IRAN

Appealing to a Country's Heart With Good Old-Fashioned Charm

British musician Chris de Burgh, shown here in Tehran, is known for his "The Lady in Red" and "A Woman's Heart." De Burgh said at a news conference that he planned to perform at Tehran's 120,000-seat stadium, a statement that stunned Iranian reporters.
British musician Chris de Burgh, shown here in Tehran, is known for his "The Lady in Red" and "A Woman's Heart." De Burgh said at a news conference that he planned to perform at Tehran's 120,000-seat stadium, a statement that stunned Iranian reporters. (Morteza Nikoubazl -- Reuters)

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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 30, 2008

TEHRAN -- Photographers stumbled over each other and bodyguards pushed people aside. Loud music reverberated through the conference hall of the Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopedia.

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In a venue like this in Tehran, one would expect an Islamic scholar in the midst of the jumble. But on this recent day, amid the swirling throng sat British pop star Chris de Burgh, known for such saccharine-sweet hits as "The Lady in Red" and "A Woman's Heart."

He had come to hold a news conference, and that in itself was news: De Burgh is the first Western pop musician to visit Iran since the 1979 revolution. Over two hours, he charmed and flattered his hosts, who charmed and flattered him in return in the unabashedly fawning way a citizenry insecure about its image abroad sometimes does.

It was 11:30 a.m. The singer arrived at the hall an hour late. None of the Iranian reporters cared.

For years, de Burgh's love songs, extremely popular in Iran, had to be played on illegally copied tapes. Most Western music has been officially forbidden in the country since a conservative Shiite Muslim clergy effectively took control in the revolution. For de Burgh and some others, the ban appears to have been lifted, since nothing is ever for certain here.

The wait was worth it. De Burgh stepped out of a Mercedes-Benz and announced -- to astonishment -- that he intended to give a concert in Tehran's 120,000-seat stadium.

De Burgh then presented a video clip, which he made with the local group Arian Band. On big video screens around the hall, the British star sang with the band, whose female singers and guitarists wore obligatory head scarves.

"Shout and say I love you," they sang in Farsi.

"Be strong and learn to say the words 'I love you,' " de Burgh crooned back.

Many Iranian reporters couldn't believe what they were seeing.

"In our youths, we listened to all his songs. It was forbidden fruit, and now Chris de Burgh is actually here in front of me. No other Western artist has ever come to Iran. It's amazing!" one whispered to a colleague.

"Salaam," the singer said in greeting.


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