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Weekends on All Things Considered continues its "Why Music Matters" series with Aria Saadi, an actor and musician originally from Iran. Saadi now lives and works in Vancouver, Canada, where he escaped after running afoul of the Iranian government.
Saadi says he remembers well one of his first encounters with Iranian authorities. A self-taught keyboard player, he was performing at what most Americans would call a normal party.
"It was a birthday party, I believe," Saadi says. "There was lots of girls and boys. I would say about 50 people. We were playing and having fun and people were dancing."
But, Saadi says, nothing was normal about this Iranian birthday.
"If you want to have a party in my country, girls and boys should be in different rooms. Also, drinking in my country is illegal," he says. "[At] that party, there was alcohol and there was girls and boys mixed. It's really a bad situation to be in if the guards show up."
In fact, they did.
"All of a sudden, somebody came in and they were like, 'The guards are here! The guards are here!'" Saadi says. "When you hear this you want to save whatever you can and just go. Usually there is a stairway in the middle of the house, inside the house, that leads you to the roof. So I remember I took my keyboard and I took these stairs."
Saadi says he tried to jump from the roof, but it was too high — so he scrambled from rooftop to rooftop until he found an open door and made it to the street. After that night, he says, he set his sights on getting out of Iran.
"I was there for another two or three years. I just told my parents, 'I'm just fed up with this thing. I just want to go somewhere to be free," Saadi says. "I think there's nothing greater than kindness and peace, and I want to see that we can lay our hands in peace."
"Why Music Matters" is produced by Anna Boiko-Weyrauch with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, in collaboration with the Association of Independents in Radio and KEXP-FM in Seattle.