Don't Cry for Me, Iran

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Iran's pop diva Googoosh performs at the World Trade Center in Dubai

Legendary Iranian singer Googoosh this week capped her first tour in 22 years with a concert in Dubai. Thousands of Iranians crossed the Persian Gulf to hear the diva (who is banned from performing at home) ring in the Persian New Year last Wednesday. Although silenced by the Islamic revolution before many of them were born, even Iran's youth proclaim Googoosh as the preeminent icon of Iran's prerevolutionary social freedom. Her music has served as a unifying force amongst Iranians of all classes, both at home and in exile. TIME's Tehran correspondent Azadeh Moaveni met with Googoosh backstage and discussed the implications of her comeback for the future of Iran.

TIME: Has this Dubai show been a special experience for you? How does it feel to be on the stage again after all these years?

Googoosh: I feel like I'm singing in Iran. It has been like a rebirth for me.

Did you ever imagine this day would come, or had you psychologically moved on?

I never saw it coming. I had really felt like it was all over. I worried I wouldn't have either the chance or the ability to sing again.

When the revolution came in 1979, you were outside the country. Why did you go back?

Well, I had never left such that I wasn't planning to go back. I was only abroad because I had gone to Switzerland to pay for my son's schooling. Three months later, on a slight detour to Los Angeles, the revolution came, and everyone told me you can't return. But I hadn't taken anything with me, so despite all the pressures, and this talk of the dangers of what would happen to me if I do, I went back.

Why exactly were you denied a passport after the revolution?

Partly for financial reasons, for pre-revolutionary back taxes I allegedly owed.

What prompted your comeback tour?

It just sort of happened, came together. I started to take seriously all the offers to come back. I stayed because I wanted to come out legally, with a passport. [Her passport was approved last year by the government of President Khatami.]

Do you see yourself returning to Iran?

I can't predict the future. I think my decision would eventually be to return home, but it's hard to know what will happen to us, if we have no news of the future. One must live in the moment.

Is it a burden to be treated as the symbol of an entire nation?

It's a great honor that I only hope I can live up to. As long as it's reciprocal — I give love, as well as take it back. Until the day this is not there, I can keep going. But it does bear heavily on my shoulders. I had no practice for such a thing.

Do you have any message for Iranian young people, who still hold you so dear?

Our young people need to make every effort to secure their rights. As you know, Iranian young people have nothing, no leisure, no privacy or comfort in their lives — although I know my saying this will create difficulties for me later. They need to build their future, the country, and their own lives. They need to be the determining force in their own lives. They have to force and fight, as they are now, with all the difficulties they are currently facing. To achieve anything, people must work this hard. For me, I've put in tremendous effort these 21 years to be able to do these concerts. My life has been rife with difficulties, though I know comparatively, many may have been far worse off than me.

Many Iranian artists, particular filmmakers, have been creatively inspired by the restrictions imposed after the revolution. Have you had this experience at all?

Well, I suppose hardship itself is an experience. Whatever happens is an experience gained...

Are you optimistic about the future of the democratic trend in Iran?

That I could come out gives one hope. My singing on the stage again is a sort of hope in itself.