Payam Yousefi (Ph.D. Harvard University) is an ethnomusicologist and performer-composer specializing in the music of Iran, with a focus on cultural and political histories, socio-musical analysis, and critical creative practice. Dr. Yousefi's current research project The Politics of Performance in Modern Iran: Music, Resistance, and a Changing Society draws on eight years of ethnographic fieldwork to explore how musician’s contemporary practices both mediate social movements and imagine new socio-political futures.
Dr. Yousefi also maintains a long-term research project focused on female vocalists in Iran who have pursued their careers amid the 1979 ban on women’s public solo singing. His research on this topic was awarded the James T. Koetting Prize (2018) and the Charles Seeger Prize (2019) by the Society for Ethnomusicology. His forthcoming chapter in Music and Society in Modern Iran, ed. Nahid Siamdoust and Houchang Chehabi (2024) considers the non-coercive power of Iranian women’s vocal performances in both online and offline counter-publics. This work argues that the subversive musical performances of women within society constitute a "power of presence" which engenders contrasting notions of respectability that in effect limit the power of authorities to enforce legal restrictions.
For over fifteen years Dr. Yousefi has also maintained a career as a performer-composer of classical Persian music. His creative practice navigates the nuances of tradition, change, and eclectic collaborations within a transnational context. His solo album of kamancheh performance featuring the renowned percussionist Pedram Khavarzamini, Songs of Compassion (forthcoming 2024), offers new compositions rooted within Persian dastgāh music’s traditional conventions. Additionally, Dr. Yousefi has recorded two forthcoming albums in collaboration with pianist Witness Matlou that explore the improvisational affinities between Iranian, South African, and jazz musical idioms (currently in post-production).
Since 2021 he has also collaborated on a series of ongoing interdisciplinary studies at the intersection of music, psychology, and medicine that explore the efficacy of Sufi music and movement traditions in promoting health outcomes. These studies have been presented at various international conferences, including the 12th Annual European Music Therapy Conference and the International Association for the Psychology of Religion.
Selected Conference Presentations:
“Sineh-zani Chants for Women, Life, Freedom: Case Studies on the Role of Iranian Mourning Rituals within Contemporary Protest.” Middle Eastern Studies Association, Motreal, Canada, 2023.
“Accompaniment as Empathetic Listening in Āvāz Improvisation of Classical Persian Music.” Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference, Ottawa, Canada, 2023.
“Case Study of Meditative Listening in Public Health: Sufi Music of the MTO Zendeh Delan Ensemble in Community Outreach.” International Association for the Psychology of Religion, Groningen, Netherlands, 2023.
“Navigating Surveillance and Performing Incompetence: Tales of Ethnography in Iran.” British Forum for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, 2023.
“Conformity and Protest in Iranian Shi’ite Sineh-zani Mourning Rituals.” Society for Ethnomusicology 67th Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA, 2022.
“Reframing the Radif: The Limits of Repertoire and a New ‘Intermusical’ Paradigm for Iranian Dastgāh Music Pedagogy.” Music and the University Forum, City University of London, 2022
“Public Health During Pandemic Times: Music Audition, State Change, and the Therapeutics of Sufi Approaches to Listening.” 12th Annual European Music Therapy Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, 2022.
“Awakened Hearts in Europe: Principles of Remembrance and Listening in the Contemporary Sufi Music of the MTO Shahmaghsoudi Zendeh Delan Ensemble.” Middle East and Central Asia Music Forum, City University of London, 2022.
“Poetics of Oppression: Conformity and Protest in Iranian Shi’ite Sineh-zani Mourning Rituals.” Society for Ethnomusicology’s Mid Atlantic Chapter, Philadelphia, PA, 2022.
“The roles of Applied Ethnomusicology Amidst Changing Cultural Norms within Iran’s Regional Musics.” 12th Annual Iranian Folk Music Festival, Kerman, Iran, 2019.
“Singing Subversive Resistance: Feminine Voices Renegotiating Iran’s Public Sphere.” Society for Ethnomusicology’s 63rd annual Conference, Albuquerque, NM, 2018.