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Disc Jockey Dariush - 2004-03-15

A music disc jockey who honed his skills in fundamentalist Iran is now a fixture of the Washington D.C. music scene, particularly among the 28 thousand or so Iranians living in the United States capital.

He calls himself simply DJ Dariush. His style is low-key. His music, whether for American or Iranian audiences, is Persian-inflected and intended for non-stop dancing.

Sound of Iranian contemporary disco music

“Mostly I try to pick good music and mix it. Because, you know, you can dance differently to each individual piece of music. But you have to know which song should be played now so that people will continue dancing. Every time is different. I look at the crowd, and you just should know – okay, now is the time for this song. If you play a wrong song, even if it’s a dance song, if it’s the wrong song for that time, some people will go and will sit.”

Dariush Rateshtari, who is 32 years old now, started his DJ career more than fifteen years ago in Teheran.

“When I was a teenager I was so into music, so I started to archive the music, the cassettes. At that time I think music CDs didn’t exist. So I just started collecting music, and my friends, because I had a good archive and I also had good equipment, my friends asked me to play music at their events or house parties. So that was the beginning. At that time I didn’t know that the job I was doing was a DJ, but that was the beginning.”

As Dariush Rateshtari’s musical archive grew, so did the demand for his services at family-oriented events that required musical entertainment. In the Ayatollahs’ Iran of the 1980s music was not easy to come by. Popular music was banned, there were no radio stations playing music, no music stores, and most of the country’s singers had fled to Europe or America. But for the ingenious and the determined -- people like DJ Dariush -- there were ways of keeping up with what was happening on the music scene.

“There were some ways, like buying tapes on the black market, and that was illegal. But from networking. Like some people were coming out of the country, they just bought the music cassette and they brought it inside the country, and they just, you know, made a copy. And from the networking we could get the music.”

Music was Dariush Rateshtari’s hobby. At Teheran University he studied geology, but an interest in art and drawing led him to take courses at a technical school in design and computer graphics. Dissatisfied with the limitations of life in Teheran, he longed to emigrate to America, which he believed would be more compatible with his way of thinking.

“Actually, the reason was just freedom, being free. Because I believe everybody was just born one time, and we live on this planet only one time, so I want to live the way I want, not the way other people or somebody forces you, you have to live this way.”

Finally, in 1999, an opportunity to leave Iran opened up, and he took it, going first to Austria and then to the United States. He says his transition to life in America was quick and smooth. Thanks to an aunt who had settled in the Washington area, twenty days after arriving he landed a job in a graphic design firm, where he still works. The Iranian community in the D.C. area welcomed him, and pretty soon he was DJ Dariush again, playing at various Iranian functions.

“Anytime there is an event, I’m doing DJ-ing for them. Mostly I do DJ for the people that have like a wedding party, or like an engagement party, house party, birthday party. And I also play at clubs.”

In fact, DJ Dariush recently mixed his pulsating dance-music mix at the Diva Nightclub, just blocks from the White House. The enthusiastic crowd was a mix of Persian and American young people. Part of DJ Dariush’s appeal is that his repertoire embraces a wide variety of musical styles, including techno, Arabic, Latino and Indian, as well as hip-hop and rap. And he has an up-to-the minute knowledge of what’s happening in the music world that helps him respond to the style and taste of any particular audience.

“If you want to be a DJ you have to listen to music all the time. Because you have to be up-to-date. You have to just listen to all kinds of music. It is not like you can just grab some Arabic music and play it. You have to listen to specific CDs and just pick one song, and know that that song is good for that night. I usually buy the CD, and when I’m working on my graphics, like I’m designing something, I’m listening to music at the same time.”

Dariush Rateshtari does not forsee leaving his work in graphic arts to devote himself full-time to music. He says he loves both fields, and is happy that he can continue to grow in his career as a web designer at the same time he’s spinning his unique mix of dance music as “DJ Dariush”.

English Feature #7-38442 Broadcast March 15, 2004