Tune in to Melody Pezeshkian’s online radio show, “Borders of Sound,” and you might hear a style of Afghan music known to accompany its national dance, Attan. The music speeds up and typically uses a tablah (a type of drum). Or, Armenian music featuring the duduk (a reed instrument, like an oboe), played at weddings and festivals. It’s all been an opportunity to take a deep dive into different countries and their individual sounds.
“I wanted the show to be a way to share and showcase music from different cultures that Western listeners wouldn’t be familiar with. When I go to house shows, I always hear and love Latin house, or I’ll hear Middle Eastern/Arab influences in house music, but I can never attribute the music I’m hearing to one region. It’s nice to have the diverse sounds in the scene,” she says. “On the other hand, you’ll see things on YouTube, like ‘Deep House Ethnic Oriental Middle Eastern Mix’ and it’s just a mix of sounds. I think I wanted to use this show to explore different countries and really get a sense of what sounds and motifs I could attribute to certain cultures.”
Her show airs on Particle FM, a community internet radio station based in San Diego. The platform was started in 2021 by a group of artists and DJs from varying cultures and identity groups, carving out a space to showcase the work of underrepresented groups. Pezeshkian, who DJs as Azizam (which translates to “dear” or “darling” in Farsi), mixes live for each episode of her program, which began this past May. The 25-year-old artist and Ph.D. student lives in Del Mar and took some time to talk about DJing, growing up Iranian American, and finding a way to combine both music and politics on her show.
Q: Why was it important to you that your format focus on the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and on cultures “whose people have been displaced … or oppressed”?
A: A main focus of the show, aside from musical representation, is political representation. I always interview a guest on the show and ask them to share something about their country that they want people to be more aware of.
As I’ve been doing the show, I’ve come to find another motivation for the focus: It’s become really important to me to focus on people who have been displaced or oppressed, for the sake of preserving cultures, especially with countries who are having border crises or are fighting for their stability. There’s so much history, culture, and current turmoil in some of the countries that are featured on the show. It’s hard to say that one hour can encapsulate the message, but at least it could be a starting point for curiosity and awareness. Sometimes music can be the strongest connection someone has to their culture, especially if they’re away from home or away from family. I hope that people whose cultures are being showcased on the show can find some sort of comfort in the show, or at least a respite. I find that with a lot of people whose home countries are going through strife and political turmoil, it’s an ongoing battle; I hope the show can be a little glimmer of recognition for listeners whose home countries are featured. A reminder that other people are out there who care about your country and the culture it has to offer.
Q: Do you share any cultural similarities with the countries/regions your show is focused on? If so, can you tell us a bit about your background?
A: Yes! I’m Iranian American; my parents are both Iranian, and I speak Farsi. I’ve been to Iran four times now, and I’d consider that number pretty low for the amount of family I have there. I think, with a lot of political turmoil going on, there’ve been times where it hasn’t felt safe to go visit, especially now with all of the protests against the regime and all of the arrests of Iranians.
The current uprising against the regime, which was sparked by the killing of Mahsa Amini, has really led to a shift in the culture in Iran right now. It’s also led to a lot of death and senseless killings of innocent Iranians. There was a time last year where I kept seeing news of little kids being separated from parents, and girls my age being arrested and killed. For a while, I just felt so helpless. I think helplessness has been a common sentiment that people who I’ve had on the show have shared, especially people living in the diaspora. Living in the diaspora means I am not currently in Iran like my cousins, aunts, and uncles and I have to stay involved from afar. I am grateful to be able to share my voice in the U.S. and to be able to have a radio show that shares people’s cultural heritage.
I grew up in Glendale which actually has an Armenian population of 40 percent. Iran and Armenia are neighbors, geographically, so it was nice to share a home with a large Armenian population growing up. We’re also neighbors with Afghanistan, so that kind of explains the first few episodes of “Borders of Sound” — so far, I’ve featured Afghanistan, Iran, Armenia, and a few others.
What I love about Del Mar…
It’s really quiet and peaceful. My favorite thing is how close it is to Torrey Pines; I’m always in awe of the beauty there.
Q: I’ve read that you’ve interned as a staff writer for both a campus publication and a weekly paper in Santa Barbara, and your LinkedIn profile says that you have a bachelor’s degree in psychological brain sciences and that you’re currently a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology? How does your interest in the mind intersect with your interest in music and storytelling?
A: Yeah, I definitely think there’s an intersect between clinical psychology and storytelling. I think listening to, and hearing, people’s stories is a big part of clinical work, and it’s also part of what I do on the show. It’s nice to give people space to share their stories. As far as the intersection with my interest in music, I definitely was interested in the neuroscience of music for a while. I worked for this one company called Wavepaths, which uses neuroscience to generate music for therapy. There’s definitely a lot of research into how the brain responds to music and the different regions of the brain responsible for processing and encoding musical information. Even though there’s a big intersection with music and the brain, I don’t know how much room academia gives for artistry. I think that, for a while, I was afraid to embark on my degree out of fear that I’d have to give up DJing, not only out of time constraints, but also in search of professionalism.
Q: Walk us through an episode of your radio show.
A: An episode usually starts with some music from a country and a little intro from me, plus the person I’m interviewing. I start the blends with more lyrical and melodic tracks with less of a beat, and then transition to something with more of a beat. Then, I bring in the audio and a portion of the interview — sometimes a memory the person has of their culture’s music, or some information about the musical styles. Then, I’ll continue to mix tracks that are representative of the culture’s traditional music, but I’ll also include some more modern tracks. Sometimes, I’ll also add house or techno tracks that are produced by people in the diaspora as a way to showcase producers from those regions. I sort of weave in the interviews over the tracks so that there’s always music playing during the show, and the interview feels like a voiceover or a sample within the music.
Q: When is your next episode of “Borders of Sound” and what can listeners expect to hear?
A: The next episode airs on Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. This month, we’ll be featuring music from Palestine, and I’ll be interviewing a dear friend who has Palestinian roots and is also a DJ. I’m really excited for this episode. The month after I’ll likely be doing an episode on Ukraine and interviewing someone from Ukraine who I actually met on the dance floor.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: Use SPF daily.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: Surfing tiny waves at La Jolla Shores, grabbing an early morning matcha at Hawthorn Coffee, getting a drink and catching a vinyl set at Part Time Lover, getting a Tahdig Taco.