June 25, 2003
In today's virtual music world of looped audio
samples, synthetic sounds,
and overdubbed studio recordings, it is a deep breath of fresh
air to hear a
group of musicians emphasize strongly on capturing the essence
of their live
performances and their natural sounds in their recordings.
breath and a big, proud sigh will ensue once you realize that
consists of Iranian virtuoso musicians playing traditional
Iranian instruments. But a bewildered gasp comes when you realize
going fully against the grain in opposite directions to traditional
music and mainstream Persian Pop.
You won't hear danceable
cheesy lyrics that spell M-O-N-E-Y and market sales, and
you also won't hear
strict classical Iranian pieces solely following tradition.
You are then
left to wonder who their target audience is and how they
intend to establish
an Iranian following by burning all the 'safe' Persian music
But such is the uncompromising nature of the band Som'ma. This
a band where
a desire for individual artistic freedom has brought them together
collaborative effort to push the tonal restraints set by the
Persian classical music 'Dastgah' system.
Together they are exploring
territories of Persian art music, regardless of mainstream
or traditional audience support, and guided only by their inner
to be able
to legally cross these traditional music borders and venture
artistic realms, they have had to spend a lifetime of study,
research about their musical heritage, culture and tradition.
Besides having the literal meaning of singing and chanting to
attain a higher state of emotion and ecstasy, Som'ma is
also the name of an
invigorating beverage used as an offering to the Gods in Vedic
sacrifices. But for the members of Som'ma , it also means "...listening
inner voice of oneself, creating art & music free of any limits
boundaries ,yet true to the emotions and feelings of the musician".
While Som'ma enjoys building on the traditional repertoire of
classical 'Dastgah' modal system and expanding and fusing the
melodic 'Gushe' s
with new sounds and tonalities, they have also very efficiently
incorporated the often overlooked concept of fusing sound and silence within
This unique spectrum of modal sound and modern space in the music
of Somma, is reminiscent of the Modal Jazz style introduced by
Miles Davis. The
harmonically static and purely melodic flow of unrushed, wandering sound ,
forms the backbone of this style.
Instead of the performer having to
confine his movement within the harmonic boundaries of the chord
progression, or the melodic restrictions of the 'Dastgah', the soloist can
transition and move between modes using the common tonalities in them, and
even venture outside of the preset modes and back again to create a sense
of tension and release instead of resolving chord harmonies.
excitement and unpredictability of modal improvisation, and the
anticipation of where the audience is being taken to next by the music,
is what keeps Som'ma' s live music always fresh, volatile and impossible
Based in San Francisco, Som'ma embodies different forms at different
times based on the changes in its lineup of virtuoso musicians.
repertoire covers everything from strict Persian classical music to Middle
Eastern & Indian fusion and even Rock and Electronica collaborations.
One of the ensemble's goals is to introduce Western listeners to the
mysterious beauties of Persian music by performing in unconventional
settings and festivals where Persian musicians do not regulary appear.
Som'ma strives to push the boundaries of today's Persian art
music, in the same way that Miles Davis and Frank Zappa further
already vast soundscapes of Jazz and Rock. In this sense, Som'ma is
truly an underground Persian music ensemble inside the Persian
The founders of Somma , Shirzad Sharif and Alan
Kushan, both come from
highly artistic and musical backgrounds.
Shirzad was born to a musical family, and has trained with the
likes of Ostad Farhang
Sharif and studied the Persian Tonbak with the legendary Ostad Bahman Rajabi
His unique performance and teaching technique has led him to performing
at numerous seminars including the University of Maryland, University of
Utah, San Francisco Sate University & UCLA.
Shirzad is the first Tonbak player to have researched & performed other
Middle Eastern, Arabic & non-Persian rhythms on the Tonbak.
instruments such as the Riqq, Mazhar, Darabuka and Tablas, he has composed
and performed many percussive compositions using Arabic,
Persian and Indian drums, thus connecting the triangle of the three ancient
regions of Persia, India & the Middle East.
He has also developed a very unique style of playing melodic
rhythms on the Tonbak, which must be seen and heard to be fully
appreciated. Dr. Alan Kushan
is one of the leading Persian avant-garde artists, and
probably the most accomplished of modern day 'Santur' players and composers.
Alan studied santur with Master Faramarz Payevar from the age of 9, then
moved to Europe to continue his studies . He holds a Masters Degree in
Classical Composition from Berlin University's Conservatory of Music.
has also studied improvisation with Sir Yehudi Menuhin, avant-garde theory
with Karlheinz Stockhausen and the vocal music of the Arab Peninsula with
Egyptian musicologist: Dr Hassan Habib. He has collaborated with some of
today's greatest modern musicians, including Miles Davis, Paco De Lucia,
Max Roach, Billy Cobham, Ronald Shannon Jackson and Mickey Hart.
instrument builder, he has expanded the range of the traditional Santur to
accommodate his vast musical creativity by adding elements from the modern
piano, harp and guitar.
The result is a unique sounding instrument, which
enables him to masterfully transition between classical and modern music
styles.With the music of Som'ma, it can be argued that "If it is art, then
not for all, and if it is for all, then it is not art."
But pioneers and
avant-garde artists are rarely appreciated and understood within their
lifetimes, as their vision keeps them ahead of their contemporaries. Even
so, Som'ma's music, and more importantly their live performances,
will surely provide
a unique experience for progressive listeners for years to come >>> Sample
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