Monday, April 30, 2012

In review--Forbidden Singers


Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat
Twinklings of hope
Kirkelig Kulturversted (Norway)

Not legally permitted to share their immaculate vocals with the Iranian public, the Vahdat sisters have recorded and released albums on the Norwegian label, Kirkelig Kulturversted.  In 2003, founder of KKV, Erik Hillestad, discovered the Iranian sister vocalists when he produced the album Lullabies from the Axis of Evil.  The album that brought light to the humanity present in the countries the former US President George Bush, Jr. deemed evil, launched the Vahdat sisters’ international career.  Since that time, the Vahdat sisters have released several recordings on KKV and their latest, Twinkling of hope features ancient and contemporary Persian/Iranian poetry performed on traditional instruments and sung in a traditional voice.

The irony of the Iranian government’s law forbidding women to sing in public ensures that the Iranian people experience only half of their humanity.  Each of us is comprised of female and  male halves; when men oppress women, they steal also from their own souls.  Imagine a people forbidden to hear the female interpretation of the spiritual longing found in the poetry of Hafiz or Rumi on stage.  While I won’t launch into a lecture on this topic, I encourage anyone reading this to support the courageous Vahdat sisters who break the law anytime they sing on a public stage in their country.  Sadly, these talented sisters not only sing in a traditional style that takes years, if not decades, to master, but they compose and co-compose the music that accompanies these spiritual poems.

I am fortunate that as an American (so far), that I can listen to and review the Vahdat sister recordings.  If the sisters toured to my part of the world, I could freely attend the concert, even if I don’t understand a word of the language in which the sisters sing the songs.  I can enjoy the music with my little knowledge of the sisters’ homeland, politics, and culture.  However, having watched different ethnic groups enjoy the music of their corresponding homelands at festivals and special gatherings, I noticed that when people and their music reunite, something magical happens, that isn’t fully understood by outsiders.  Tears flow, hearts open, and bonds form.  To take this right away from a people breaks my heart.  It breaks everyone’s heart even without her knowledge. 

The sisters appear with their ensemble on this album, featuring Atabak Elyasi on setar (traditional lute), Pasha Hanjani on ney-flute, and Ali Rahimi on daf (drum) and percussion. The overall sound feels contemplative while setting a spiritual space for the Persian poetry of yearning that appears on the album.  The sisters sing solo, in tandem, sometimes harmonizing, or in musical conversation, not confused with call & response vocals where vocalists repeat phrases back and forth.  While each song flows beautifully into the next, I especially enjoyed the songs Garden of Visions, Lullaby, Golden Straws of Wheat, Crane, Come, My Beloved, and the titular song.  The musicians provide the text in its original language and English translations in the CD booklet.  Immerse yourself in these exquisite songs.

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