Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In Review--The Vahdat Sisters and a Persian Garden

Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat  
Songs From a Persian Garden  
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

In 2004 an intriguing CD with the ironic title, Lullabies from the Axis of Evil arrived in my mailbox. Produced by Erik Hillestad for the Norwegian label, Kirkelig Kulturverksted, the recording married the voices of western women with the voices of women from the "Axis of Evil" countries (as dubbed by President Bush in a State of the Union address). The women sang lullabies from their respective countries and while the women such as Lila Downs, Eddi Reader, Sarah Jane Morris, Nina Hagen and Kari Bremnes were the famous names at the time, the vocalists from some of the East countries appear to be gaining international recognition.

KKV also released recordings by the Palestine vocalist and composer, Rim Banna to critical acclaim and now two sisters, vocalists from Iran debut in the West. Similar to Banna, Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat sang lullabies on the Axis of Evil CD and in fact, they led off the CD with their collaboration, Sad Sol--You My Destiny with English vocalist Sarah Jane Morris. Now, you can hear the sisters singing a blend of contemporary and traditional Persian songs on Song From a Persian Garden.

Again, Hillestad comments in the liner notes that the media has acted irresponsibly by turning Iran into a villain country without giving any consideration to the beauty of Iranian arts, spirituality and culture. For someone who has watched my share of Iranian cinema, (most of them banned in Iran due to strict government policies), and who has enjoyed reading the work of Persian poets and listening to traditional Persian music, I embrace the Vahdat sisters' recording. And I believe that we must separate the governments from the everyday people. And if you are seeking a bit of tranquility, you might just enjoy entering this Persian garden, ripe with poetry by Persian masters (Rumi, Hafez) and other gems.

Silk Road instruments such as setar (lute), daf (frame drum), and ney (reed flute), appear along side bass, guitars, drums and keyboards. Again, we have a tasteful marriage between music of the East and the West. Norwegian bluesman and master guitarist Knut Reiersrud lends a gentle hand here with his atmospheric guitar. He even sings, a feminine version of the African spiritual, "She's Got The Whole World in Her Hands," along with the sisters' Gole Laleh. The end result is a moody set of songs performed live in Tehran, during a time when it is against Iranian law for women to sing in public. The sisters broke the ban on public performances by women.

Songs From a Persian Garden promises to delight its Western audiences with its poetic charm, lavish instrumentation and exquisite traditional vocals. The album could lend itself towards cultural awareness, building bridges, or just act as a musical respite for someone seeking something more exotic. And in the realm of global music, let us welcome two more superb women vocalists to the table. These sisters are always welcome at my table.

For more information on this recording and other gems, go to KKV.

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