Tag Archives: Persian Music

Shajarian, Moshiri, “Khurshid-e-Arzu”

24 Jun

This is Khurshid-e-Arzu, the “Sun of my Desire,” a piece both composed and sung by Shajarian junior.  The lyrics are from a poem of Fereydoun Moshiri’s.  Moshiri is one of Iran’s great twentieth-century poets, credited with, if not ‘modernizing’ Persian poetry, at least creating a newer language that would get past the moth-and-flame, rose-nightingale, classical imagery (but every twentieth-century Iranian poet I learn about is credited with the same thing — such is the weight of their literary past I guess.)  This particular piece, at least, seems pretty traditional in its emotional tone, which is not in any way a negative assessment; I can’t tell how the language might be used differently.

This isn’t a ‘song.’  This is a composition, based on a mode like most of our music is.  It’s a suite — part of one, at least — meaning it has a structure, an architecture, a narrative arc.  If you don’t have twelve minutes to listen to it all in one piece (it’s already been cut from its original eighteen minutes) or twelve-minute’s worth attention span generally, then it’s best you don’t bother.  All you’ll hear is an “amanes*,” some ‘oriental wailing.’ *(See footnote to “Something Beautiful from Greece: Minore-tes-Auges-Rembetiko” June 17th)

The translation obviously leaves a bit to be desired I imagine.  But until we all get it together to learn Farsi, as any civilized man should, it’ll have to do.  Sorry, as well, for the hokey video.  It’s hard to find video of live performances.  Lyrics in Farsi and English below.  Enjoy.

بگذار سر به سینه ی من تا که بشنوی
آهنگ اشتیاق دلی دردمند را

شاید که پیش از این نپسندی به کار عشق
آزار این رمیده ی سر در کمند را

بگذار سر به سینه ی من تا بگویمت
اندوه چیست، عشق کدام است، غم کجاست

بگذار تا بگویمت این مرغ خسته جان
عمریست در هوای تو از آشیان جداست

دلتنگم آنچنان که اگر ببینمت به کام
خواهم که جاودانه بنالم به دامنت

شاید که جاودانه بمانی کنار من
ای نازنین که هیچ وفا نیست با منت

تو آسمان آبی آرام و روشنی
من چون کبوتری که پرم در هوای تو

یک شب ستاره ها ی تورا دانه چین کنم
با اشک شرم خویش بریزم به پای تو

بگذار تا ببوسمت ای نوشخند صبح
بگذار تا بنوشمت ای چشمه ی شراب

بیمار خنده های توام بیشتر بخند
خورشید آرزوی منی گرمتر بتاب

Lay your head on my chest to hear
The song of desire of a heart in agony,
Perhaps you would no longer favor, in the affair of love,
To hurt this ensnared startled bird.
Lay your head on my chest and let me tell you
What sorrow is, what love is, where grief is.
Let me tell you of this weary bird,
So long away from its nest in yearning for you.
So much am I sick at heart that if I see you,
I wish to forever cry at your feet,
So you might stay with me forever,
Oh love, you are not true to me!
You are the blue sky, bright and still,
I, like a dove flying in your air.
One night I will pluck your stars one by one,
And with my humble tears, I will pour them at your feet.
O sweet smile of morning, let me kiss you!
O fountain of wine, let me drink you!
I long for your laughter; laugh more!
You are the sun of my desires; shine more!

Fereydoun Moshiri

Homayoun Shajarian: enjoying a reluctant bit of a star moment…  But always dead serious about his music; this is a rare shot of him smiling…

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Something beautiful from Greece: “Minore tes Auges” — rebetiko

17 Jun

This goes out to my best friend in the world.  We’re different — maybe it’s the complementarity that has sustained the friendship since I was eighteen — and we like to rag on each other a lot.  I call him a technocrat who can’t understand anything unless it can be put on a spreadsheet; he calls me a poetry-addled flake from another planet; both contain a large dose of truth.  At the same time he has the largest heart and the most profoundly musical soul of any person I have ever met.  He remembers how when he first heard this song at eight years old, he fell into a crying fit that kept him awake all night; it wasn’t the lyrics, it was the melody that “turned him into rags” as we say in Greek, “my mother at my bedside asking me ‘what’s wrong, my son?,’ me sobbing uncontrollably…”

I can’t post the original 1947 video he sent me because some copyright b.s. makes it unviewable in the U.S., so I found a beautiful rendition (along with odd but interesting video) by the great Swteria Mpellou, one of the great cultural icons of modern Greece; read about her fascinating, heroic life; like with many flamenco or blues singers, it wasn’t the classical beauty or timbre of her voice that made her great; it was her voice’s indefinable character, its soul.

The lyrics:

Ξύπνα, μικρό μου, κι άκουσε
κάποιο μινόρε της αυγής,
για σένανε είναι γραμμένο
από το κλάμα κάποιας ψυχής.

Το παραθύρι σου άνοιξε
ρίξε μου μια γλυκιά ματιά
Κι ας σβήσω πια τότε, μικρό μου,
μπροστά στο σπίτι σου σε μια γωνιά.

Wake up my little one,

and hear a dawn minore,

written for you by the weeping

of some soul.

Open your window

and throw me just one sweet glance,

and then let me be extinguished, my little one

in some corner, outside your house.

Swteria Mpellou

“A Dawn Minore” is a rebetiko — though a late-style, more commercial example of that genre — music which has its origins among the Greek proletariat of Anatolian cities — more so Smyrna than Constantinople (I imagine that in C-town the classical tradition was too strong and the other alternatives were more a la Franca, though whatever more popular genres contemporary “arabesque” comes from must have been present).  It took its definitive form, however, among the largely refugee proletariat of Athens, Piraeus, and Salonica, after the Population Exchange of the 1920’s.  Because of its association with Turkey, the poor, crime, drugs, the underworld, but mostly because its “orientalness” didn’t sit well with the Westernizing agenda of the Neo-Greek bourgeoisie, it was subject to much discrimination, marginalization and even official bans of varying efficacy.  Eventually, however, and with the recognition of geniuses like Hatzidakis, it became the basis of modern Greek music, especially that of its Golden Age between the fifties and the seventies, when Greece produced popular music that, for the quality of its compositions and high poetic standard of its lyrics, may be unmatched in any modern commercial genre, and which, along with Cavafy, I consider the great cultural achievement of twentieth-century Greek culture.  Under unknown circumstances, this musical florescence suddenly expired in the early eighties at some point (Pasok and its lethal, lefty didacticism?).  A craze for old rebetika (pl.) which suddenly exploded in Greece at the same time, probably represented a need to fill the gap: nostalgia is usually a symptom of creative sterility.

Irony: Tsitsanes, lionized as the greatest rebetiko composer and bouzouki player, but who I never thought was all that, published a series of virulent, racist rants against the Hindi-film influenced genre of popular music that developed in Greece in the fifties, decrying its “corrupt, oriental cheapness,” that could have been written, with the same vocabulary, by a Greek bourgeois ranting against rebetiko itself two decades earlier.

Irony: Many of the young Neo-Greeks that have fetishized rebetiko since the eighties (the little Athenian snots who will only listen to authentic rebetiko first renditons off of 78’s — that, or Miles) till the point where the aural environment of Greece became so saturated with it that it could drive you nuts, will also still express the same Orientalist, petit bourgeois anti-“easterness” towards other music that previous generations did toward rebetiko.  “I can’t tolerate any form of Eastern music” a thirty-something Athenian recently told me (with the crucial condescending stress difference between “anato-li-tike” and “anatoli-ke) which for the sociological type in question almost always means any microtonal, highly chromatic music, which, freed from polyphony — except for the simple drones of Hindustani classical music or of certain Balkan folk music — and the structural complexities of Western harmonies, can throw all its craft into the highly embroidered monophonic melodic line — which essentially means all music from Greece eastwards.  This was announced to me with great disgust while I was listening to a sublime Shajarian rendition of a Fereydoon Moshiri poem, disparaged as “amanedes”* (if she only knew the caliber of artists she was talking about…)  “Eastern music?”  I replied.  “So, you mean our entire musical tradition before “Barba Yianne me tis Stamnes?”**  She didn’t have an answer to that.

Heresy: Most rebetika contain neither the intriguing depth of Western harmony nor the possessing melodic intricacy of Arab or Persian classical music, or even Greek ecclesiastic music, which is why I often find them a bit tedious and am not part of the general fan club, and I consider its popular offspring of later decades (the Golden Age, a masterful combination of rebetiko, various folk genres, western forms and the best poetry of the period — prepare for a “Golden Age” series of posts) to be the by far superior music on every level.

Positive: Rebetiko, in a strangely poetic voyage back across the Aegean, became wildly popular in Turkey in the nineties, with Turks forming their own groups and everything (I’ll find an example) and has since become a happy space where much musical collaboration and explicit mutual affection is expressed.

Final YouTube comment from a Greek on another video: “Πέθανε αυτή η Ελλάδα. Ας το καταλάβουμε μπας και γλυτώσουμε από τα ΑΚΟΜΑ χειρότερα…”  “That Greece is dead.  If we get it through our heads maybe we’ll be spared EVEN worse.”

*”Amanedes” are a light classical Turco-Greek genre that flourished in early twentieth-century Smyrna.  I don’t think it ever called itself that; the mostly negative term comes from the frequent repetition of “aman,” mercy in Turkish, in its lyrics.  It’s mostly disparaging, like when used by the person above, to deprecate some kind of music as “Turkish” “Eastern” “oriental wailing” etc…

**”Barba Yianne me tis Stamnes” is an exemplary piece of an extremely silly barber-shop quartet genre that became popular in early twentieth-century Greece, based on the Italianate “cantada” tradition of the Ionian islands, which is like bad Neapolitan music without the passion, wit, complexity or subversiveness.  I can’t find a recording of it.  The thought that if it hadn’t been for the refugee influx of the twenties, that could have become the future of Greek music sends chills down my spine.  (Here you go– from a Turkish website — go figure.)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Become a moth

20 May

Shajarian and a very young Homayoun perform the Molana-Rumi verse (with Alizadeh and Kalhor)

Perhaps the main reason I started my attempt to learn Farsi was pure spite (the other was to go to Afghanistan).  I had gotten tired of asking Iranians whether they liked this or that translation of Saadi or Hafez and being smugly told or categorically barked at: “NO! None of them; Persian poetry can’t be translated,” or reading some poor soul on You Tube gush: “My God, what beautiful music!  Can someone translate the lyrics, please?!!” only to be shot down by an Iranian: “you dont know all the metaphors references you won’t understand you cant translate poetry.”  Well, yes you can translate poetry, ‘cause if you can’t, you can’t translate anything else either.  Or you can create a set of reasonably analogous concepts that gives the other language-speaker a strongly analogous idea, at least, and just as strong a sensory feel.  In the end, the set of incommunicable ideas we’ve each got locked in our heads is pretty much as different as that between any two languages, so if you doubt translation you’re doubting the hope of any human communication really – which might, I understand, be a reasonable theory.  But we’ll forgive the Persians their snobbery because, as they say in Spanish in an expression I love: “tienen con que…” literally “they got what with…” meaning “they have reason to be” or “they a have a right to…”

But then there’s this sweet and very generous attempt of one You Tube reader to give an almost calque-like translation of this Rumi piece:

If you are going to the drunkards, become drunk

If you go towards the drunk, go drunkenly! Go drunkenly! (mastâne is a compound from mast (drunk) and the prefix -âne, which is_ a particularizer (pertaining to the qualities of X, in a X manner) e.g. from mard we have mardâne (men’s, for men; …

You should become all soul, until you are worthy of the spirits[?]

You should become all soul until you become deserving the sweetheart (beloved)

And then become the cup [?] that holds the wine of love

And then become a cup for the wine of love! Become a cup! (in English, if I’m not mistaken, one says “become a member of X” so I translated it as “become a cup…” rather than “become the cup”)

Make your heart like the [other] hearts [?], wash it seven times [till it is free] of grudges

Go and wash the chest of hatreds seven-water-ly like [real] chests (chest is the house of heart. I think, in English, one says “like a [real] chest”. Ancient people believed that washing something with water of seven seas makes it purely clean.)

And then come live with the lovers

And then, come [and] become homemate with lovers! Become homemate! (ham- = homo-, xâne = home -> homo-home like homo-phone but anyway: homemate)

Become a stranger to yourself, ruin your own home [destroy the_ nafs]

[both] make yourself alien (stranger) and make the house ruined (I think it means “desert your past and your belongings”)

And from the heart of the flame, come out, become a moth

And into fire, enter! Become a butterfly! Become a butterfly! (candle (šamë)

Abandon your deceit, O lover, become mad

O lover, abandon deceit! Become mad! Become mad! (hilat is Arabic_ form of hila -> hile. In Persian, we have sometimes taken an Arabic word as -at and sometimes as -a. Well, as for hilat, it’s not found in common Persian and we only say hila/e)


And a Farsi transliteration, not all included in the above performance:

Aan goushvaar-e shaahedaan, hamsohbat-eh aarez shodeh,

Aan goush-e aarez baayadat! dordaaneh sho, dordaaneh sho(2),

Chon Jaan-e to shod dar hava, zafsaneh-ye shiereen-eh ma,

Faany sho O chon aasheghaan! afsaaneh_ sho, afsaaneh sho(2),

Andiesheh-at Jaaie ravad, aangah to ra aanja barad

zaandisheh bogzar chon ghaza! pieshaaneh sho, pieshaaneh sho(2)

O Hielat Raha kon aashegha! divaneh sho, divaneh sho(2),

Vandar del-e aHam khiesh ra bigaaneh kon, ham khaaneh ra viraneh kon,

Vaangah bia ba aasheghaa! hamkhaaneh sho, hamshaaneh sho(2),atash dar a! parvaneh sho, parvaneh sho(2)

Ro sieneh ra chon sieneh ha, haft aab_ shoo az kieneh ha,

Vaangah sharaab-e eshgh ra! peymaaneh sho, peymaaneh sho(2),

The moth-and-flame is one of the most classic of those ‘untranslatable’ metaphors: the constant injunction to become a moth and throw yourself into the flame, surrender to the annihilation of love.  The crucial surrender here, of course, is to ignore the full spectrum of interpretations – from the religious pedant’s to the equally irritating contemporary gay ‘reads’ (those of what Joseph Massad calls “The Gay International”) – about whether the flame is God or your spiritual master or a hot kid and really surrender the urge to interpret entirely, forget about metaphor, stop the transference, which is what “metaphora” means in Greek, something that the ghazal’s connected/disconnected structure is so conducive to and which gives it so much of its power  — and which probably leads to the common assumption of untranslatability.  This is what Agha Shahid Ali’s poetry does so successfully in English.

That said, I’ve never seen a moth actually do this.  I’ve heard mosquitoes incessantly frying themselves on those machines on summer nights in the sweltering plains of northern Greece while I’m trying to enjoy a roast pig crackling, but not a moth actually burn itself in a candle or other flame — or maybe Persian moths are greater emotional risk-takers.  In my experience, whenever a moth runs into trouble around light it’s usually ended up like this guy who I found in my icon lamp.

And this is what I’ve found most contemporary humans’ experience of love to be too: stuck in a viscous mess, your wings oil-logged, pedaling frantically and unable to escape your slow suffocation till life picks you out with a paper-towel and squishes you.  Don’t we wish it were instant incineration; we’d save ourselves much pointless humiliation.  But our hearts just aren’t up to such sacrificial leaps into the abyss anymore.

“Whom the flame itself has gone looking for, that moth — just imagine!” – Bollywood song



Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Mohammad-Reza Shajarian comes to the U.S.

21 Apr

Perhaps it’s petty or arrogant of me to take it personally when artists of this stature don’t schedule a New York concert, but I do.  What are these?  “Bringing culture to the provinces” tours?  The National brings Wedekind to Bradford with Urdu supertitles and such?  I thought only Europe had (or had had) money for such lavish patronage.  I went to see Alizadeh and Kalhor at the Kennedy Center two years ago; it was well worth it, especially their transporting instrumental first set.  But I also love D.C.  Not going to Boston, sorry, one of my least favorite cities on the planet — not even for the great ustaad.  Maybe if his son Homayoun had come along…

But here’s a old video of Shajarian when he was very young:

And an interview with him that can be fond here at Tehran Bureau, the go to site for anything Iranian   He talks about his music, the poetry he loves best and, very subtly, about his not-so-passive role in Iranian events since 2009. 

And here he is in a pyrotechnic a capella duet with Homayoun, perhaps the most beautiful section for me of their last recording together Faryad (The Cry) performed a few years ago at their concert at BAM.  One can only guess at the intensity of a father-and-son relationship like theirs.  Many think Homayoun is destined to be an even greater singer than his father, but probably respect and Persian manners keep it from being said too much.  To paraphrase Virginia Woolf: ‘…this being Iran, everyone pretended not to notice.’


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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