Iranian Singer BAHAR MOVAHED Gives New Voice to Music of the Kurds
GOBLET OF ETERNAL LIGHT Releases April 17, 2012 on Traditional Crossroads
Tanbur Master ALI AKBAR MORADI Teams with Young Vocalist
for her Illuminating U.S. Debut
I feel very connected to Kermanshah. The people are very emotional, very musical. When a child in born in that region, there's a good chance someone is playing music in the house - Bahar Mohaved
Bahar Mohaved wasn't born in the Kurdish region of Iran. But it was born into her.
Her roots go back to the Kurdish city of Kermanshah, and her childhood featured regular visits to family there. As a teenager, she even learned to play tanbur -- the lute that's the signature instrument of Kurdish music -- from some of her father's friends.
It was not, though, a focus of her youthful musical training in Tehran, where she grew up. As a singing prodigy she pursued study of Persian classical and traditional music, winning acclaim for her remarkable control and pure tone in the hugely demanding field. But she couldn't hold back the Kurdish side of her roots.
So she sought out Ali Akbar Moradi, one of the true masters of the tanbur, which has a legacy said to stretch back more than five millennia. The result -- several years later -- is Goblet of Eternal Light (Traditional Crossroads), a stunningly beautiful, arrestingly moving album of intertwined tanbur and vocals, both remarkably emotive, drawing on centuries of Kurdish musical and poetic traditions.
Ali Akbar Moradi, known for his vast range of solo works and collaborations with such Persian classical stars as Kayhan Kalhor and Shahram Nazeri, composed original music for four of the album's songs, the other three being his vivid arrangements of folk tunes, with emphasis on the maqam form, the core of the repertoire. The words come from such revered 19th and 20th century poets as Mahwi, Naali and Guran, brought to full life via the virtuosic artistry of Mohaved. That itself is an achievement, but it is more so for this material being sung by a woman.
It nearly didn't happen though. Moradi, perhaps understandably, was reluctant to take on this student, eager as she was, especially considering that she didn't speak the Kurdish language.
"He plays tanbur, and also sings in Kurdish, but he never accepts vocal students -- only tanbur students," Mohaved says. "He saw I was so interested, so passionate about learning to sing in Kurdish, so he said, 'Okay, I'll give you one lesson in singing, and if you do it right, I'll make an exception.' Otherwise the deal was off."
Apparently she did it right. Not only did Moradi continue with the lessons, but he enjoyed it all so much that he suggested they do a set of performances, which in turn led to the making of this album. And they shared more than music. Born a year after the hard-line 1979 revolution, Mohaved could relate to the cultural oppression of Kurds in Iran. As a woman she was severely restricted in her musical pursuits, particularly in live concerts. She recorded several CDs in co-performance with other singers before making this album, her first as a solo singer.
Alongside music, Mohaved developed a career in dentistry. In 2010, the young singer moved to Los Angeles to further her studies as a dentist, as well as pursue her musical ambitions in an environment free from restrictions.
With Goblet of Eternal Light, the meeting of cultures and traditions is at the collaborative core, a theme running through the music.
"The main message is the uniting of different groups of Kurdish people," Mohaved explains. "The tanbur has been the signature instrument of the Kurdish people. But the Kurdish language has different dialects. Different people speak different languages. And historically tanbur has been associated with only one, Howrami."
Moradi, in the album's liner notes, elaborates: "In the past, it was customary to accompany the Tanbur songs with Howrami poems," he says. "This practice kept non-Howrami Kurds, particularly the Suran and Kormanj tribes, away from the tanbur repertoire. And by incorporating the words of other great poets such as Mahwi, Naali and Guran, we hope to bring together all Kurdish groups, especially compatriots who were previously divided."
To further underscore the note of Kurdish unity, Mohaved not only sang the words of poets from different parts of the culture, but sang in three different Kurdish dialects -- another great challenge that she met with respect and artistry. But always she kept the real unifying force at the fore, which is the deeply shared mysticism and love of beauty that is common to all the poets.
"This album has a very mystical tone," Movahed says. "The poetic tradition is mystical, in part due to suppression. The poets used words with two or three meanings, told stories that could be translated in different ways. And traditional tanbur music has been associated with pieces that have mystical undertones. On this album, there is a piece titled 'Autumn,' which could be literally about autumn, or about losing a loved one, earthly or divine, or about one's feeling toward a homeland left behind. Many songs could be translated in terms of love between two people, but could also be referring to something more celestial. That tradition gives the listener an open field to take whatever meaning they want -- if you want to think about your lover, that's what I'm talking about, or God or someone that left you, or someone you want to get to. You're free to take the meaning you want."
What is it for Mohaved?
"For me, the whole album, the whole concept, is a mixture of deep love and deep sorrow. Sometimes when singing the pieces I felt instantaneously this strong feeling of love."
In particular she cites "Allah Waisy," with words from the 19th century Iraqi poet known as Mowlave e Kurd . The song appears on the album in two parts, surrounding the folk song "Goblet of Wine." In the closing portion of "Allah Waisy," Mohaved sings the heartfelt poetry with deep emotion:
My beloved, I have been awaiting your visit while on my death bed
So I can pave your way through my dear life.
"Even after the recording sessions, whenever I read the lines of these songs I still come to tears," she says. "It's the deep emotion of the words and how the lover is so mournful, talking to God or to a lover."
"Bahar Movahed has placed her Persian classical voice at the service of Kurdish folk repertoire in way that is remarkable, all the more so for her being a woman." - Kayhan Kalhor
BAHAR MOVAHED with ALI AKBAR MORADI
"Goblet of Eternal Light"
Release date April 17, 2012
Traditional Crossroads Records