Ajam is a word with various meanings and interpretations. It is commonly recognised as a historic name for Farsi speaking people. One possible root of this word can be traced to a term used to describe ‘Non-Arab’ Muslims which literally meant ‘mute’ or ‘ineloquent’ (to the Arabic Language). It is also often referred to as a synonym for ‘stranger’ or ‘other/outsider’.
There are numerous reasons as to why Ajam was chosen as the name of this musical project. In many historic and contemporary conflicts, Ajam, much like many other terms relating ethnicity, has been used as a politically fueled word to rile tensions and breed animosity. By choosing to refer to ourselves as Ajam we seek to challenge and deride the chauvinistic nationalism that still plagues many neighbouring peoples that share a fortune of common history, culture and heritage. Further to this reason, with relation to the definition of Ajam as ‘mute’ or ‘illiterate’, the use of the word Ajam is our proclamation that we would rather be ‘illiterate’ to language of man, but aspire to attain fluency in the language of the heart (soul).
By choosing Ajam as the name of this musical project it is envisaged that the word can be empowered and celebrated whilst depreciating negative historic/political connotations. Further to such aspirations the naming of the project as Ajam is also to serve as reminder of the highs and lows in history that have produced the rich variety of cultures and heritages that form present-day Iran.
It should not go without saying that the word ‘Ajam’ has been used widely in Iranian literature, often in an honourific tone, by poets such as Ferdowsi, Sa’di, Rumi, Jāmi, Nezāmi, Abu-Sa’id Abulkheyr, and many others. Also, Ajam was used in geographical naming (Erāq-i Ajam – a term used for the central region of Iran, including cities such as Isfahan, Ray, Qazvin, and Kāshān from the Teymurid to Qājār periods), honourific titles of poets (Amir-e Pāzevāri, “Sheykh-e Ajam” Māzandarāni poet of the Safavid era), naming of modal melodies within traditional music (Bayāt-e ‘Ajam in the dastgāh of Rāst Panjgāh), and many such instances by Iranians. Moreover, the naming of the band was in part a salute to the ethnic-minorities of Iranian origin that reside in states on the southern shores of the Persian Gulf that are to this day known, and refer to themselves, as ‘Ajami’.
It is worth mentioning that for a large proportion of Arab speakers today this word does not carry any negative connotations and is used as a surrogate term for ‘Iranian’ or ‘non-Arab’. From experience, in many instances common Arab speakers have little knowledge of the term. As such, when considering that a large proportion of the Iranian and Arab speaking world do not consider this word to be derogatory term, an emphasis on the negative connotations of “Ajam” is rooted mostly in the intentions of those wishing to nurture animosity and hatred between the two peoples, which is certainly not our intention.
Further to the ethno-linguistic and geographic meanings of the word Ajam, there are literary definitions of the word which are to be found in classical poetry. In particular, in the poetry of Attār and Rumi, ‘Ajami’ is an attribute used to describe a person that is aware of a fact or secret but due to circumstances has to proclaim ignorance.
Ajam try to bring the epic, energetic, and often aggressive spirit of the native musics and roots heritage of Iran to this generation. In many ways they reintroduce Iranians to native cultures that are often neglected in representations of Iran as well as creating a platform for an international audience to hear the less standardised and ‘untamed’ music of Iran.
Several of the cultures that Ajam pay homage to overlap with those of neighbouring countries. This represents the common shared history and culture between the peoples of the area that transcends current international boundaries.