Persian poetry of rebellion hits a classical note


by Mersedeh

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. ~ Victor Hugo

Namâd Ensemble is once again touring, delivering commendable performances at each venue [See Photo Essay]. If you are already familiar with them, you understand what makes them worthy of praise. If, these musicians are unknown to you, however, you may wonder what genre their music falls under and what exactly sets them apart. Mentioning that these five men collectively play Tombak, Frame Drums, Daf, Udu, Kamanche, Queychak, Setar and Shourangiz, may automatically invoke images of a traditional Iranian group; but Namâd is more than that. Before we jump to labels, perhaps we should pause to consider that while a performance is a transitory experience for the audience, for the musicians it is the culmination of months and years of struggle to render the extract of their essence into the language of composition. Instruments known to create one space can speak an entirely different message played at the hands of a different musician; so looks can be deceiving.

A clear self-image helps to strengthen the significance of the artists’ message as well as its expression; irrespective of the latter’s format. To understand Namâd and its music, it becomes vital to understand its members and their incredible bond. As five Iranian men in their forties, they share a common language and culture, life in the Diaspora, as well over twenty individual years of experience composing and performing. Watching them on stage, it is evident that their connection, beyond talent and achievements, rests upon decades of friendship. The group bears a resemblance to storytellers capable of reading each other’s minds and finishing each other’s sentences; not out of habit or repetition but rather trust in the same legend.

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Sitting far off on stage right is Mehrdad Arabi. With his frame drums at his sides and the tombak cradled on his lap Mehrdad carries a confidence warranted of a seasoned musician with a lengthy, diverse and impressive resume. He has trained and performed with the greatest masters of Persian music [Hassan Kasai, Jalil Shanaz, M.R. Lotfi, etc…], gaining international acclaim for his performances as well as compositions. In 2006-2007, he was presented with the Durfee Master Musician Fellowship, which holds special significance for him. He has also recorded sound tracks for Hollywood films including The Passion of Christ, Hidalgo and Helen of Troy and composed the score and played a full orchestra for the cartoon, Babak’s First Norooz. His experience has given him an insight that his fellow group-members credit him most for; “Mehrdad is wise and forward-thinking. He has a strong artistic sense and understands the long-term objective, making his advice particularly valuable.” His unique perspective on Iranian music makes him a visionary. “To convert material into reality requires foresight; Mehrdad’s suggestions and decisions help the group bridge that gap”. Inside Namâd, Mehrdad is the rhythmic backbone, providing structure. His signature crisp and clear sound cascades off his fingers with ease, and the expression on his face reveals just how enveloped he is in the rhythm.

Saeed Kamjoo sits next to Mehrdad Arabi. Saeed and Mehrdad completed their military service in Iran together and have maintained their friendship ever since. Saeed plays Kamanche and Queychak and enjoys composing. A graduate of music from the University of Tehran, Saeed has trained in instrumental and vocal techniques and repertoires of Persian classical music with renowned masters such as Ardeshir Kamkar, Ali Akbar Shekarchi and Ustad Asghar Bahari. He speaks passionately about the raison d’être of Namâd’s compositions and artistic aim; “Boundaries in music are fluid, and disentangling classical music from the rest is not as obvious a task as it may first appear.” Listening to Ossyan (album), the structure emerges, like a story from beginning to end. The tuning of the instruments is not classical and neither is the contrasting style of certain accompaniments to the singer’s voice. In “Bolanda”, composed by Saeed, we find a Neyshaburak arrangement stemming from the 13th century, which unconventional as it may sound is authentically Persian. “The musicians in Namâd share common roots in the classical training form we all received from traditional masters in Persian music, enabling us to communicate with one another in the same language. Our lives, however, differ greatly from our mentors’ and we cannot deny that we also derive inspiration from our current environment. This places us within the natural progression of music’s evolution though we will always retain connection with our roots.” When discussing the future of the group, he expresses interest in innovation while insisting that it accompany reason. “We could always incorporate a few South American drummers into the group, creating aesthetic appeal and perhaps even an interesting mix, and call it fusion; but we have to ask ourselves why? There has to exist some substantive reasoning”. Personally drawn to film, Saeed derives much of his inspiration from cinematic frames. When playing with shut-eyes, one can only wonder the imagery he must travels through.

At center-stage is Khosro Ansari; his dark shirt creates a notable contrast from the others dressed in white. Born in Isfahan, Khosro was immersed in the rich culture of art and music of the city and began his training at an early age under the tutelage of master Ali Asghar Shahzeidi. Khosro is the voice of Namâd, providing the essential link between the compositions and the poetry that inspires them. His distinctiveness, however, does not end with his shirt color. A man of few words, he prefers to express himself through his vocal interpretations and compositions; is always respectful and a true friend. Since his immigration to the US in 1988, his pursuit of Iranian vocal music has led him through numerous North American performances as well as various collaborations with motion pictures and TV series. With features in Spy Game, Man on Fire, ER and Third Watch; Khosro has solidified his standing and gained recognition for his talent. As a member of Namâd, he feeds his passion for the composition and interpretation of modern Iranian poetry alongside his friends. His research of the poetry he performs gives him a truer understanding of the space and context of its conception, thus adding a much-valued tangible quality to his interpretations.

From Khosro’s left, the sound of Kourosh Taghavi’s Setar swirls off the stage. Kourosh is an active participant in the creative process of the group, which he describes as “organic”. As a student of M.R. Lotfi and Hossein Alizadeh, both renowned masters, Kourosh received the finest training as well as a unique approach to composing and teaching. If his appearance gives an initial impression of seriousness, an introduction alone is sufficient to melt the ice, showing his warm and friendly character. This is particularly helpful for his ability to relate to his students both in private sessions and at the California state universities where he has taught the Radiff of Persian classical music. Kourosh is passionate about the poetry of Forough Farokhzad and Siovosh Kasrai; the poets who inspired Namâd’s first CD, Ossyan. In particular he admires the impenetrable nature of the pain these poets both endured as well as the frankness with which they lived and shared it; emblematic of the forward thinking ways of decades beyond their passing. Although he loves classical Iranian poetry and has collaborated with foremost experts, Robert Bly and Coleman Barks, in the celebration of Rumi; Kourosh finds a special connection with Farokhzad and Kasrai’s poetry. “Their poetry is full of contradictions that speak to our sensitivities towards social issues and it fits in well with the music that we believe in”. The instant connection that audiences feel with Ossyan and Mast, both compositions of his, are prime examples of this good marriage he speaks of. Kourosh attests the group’s success to their common vision and objective, as well as the result of having truly lived with one another and shared in the exciting as well as mundane elements of life. “We all have worked and continue to work with different artists and in different projects and enjoy those experiences; however I can honestly say that the connection I find inside Namâd is unrivaled”. His sentiments are echoed by all the members and quite visible to anyone sitting in their audience.

Far on stage left, is Afshin Mehrasa, the last member joining Namâd. A native of Sanandaj, Afshin began his musical journey at the age of 9 with the study of the Santur, but soon felt drawn to his Kurdish roots and picked up the Daf. Some believe it has never left his hands ever since. Extremely talented and humble, his achievements, which include collaboration with nearly all the greatest musicians and ensembles recognizable today, are typically pointed out by others. The list includes Shahram Nazeri, Hossein Alizadeh, Ali Akbar Moradi, Dastan, and others. Afshin’s percussion style, particularly notable with the Daf, is effortless but firm. When he doesn’t have the audience mesmerized with his Daf, he may still grab their attention with the contagious smile and mischievous expressions that make up his nature. At ease on stage and with his instruments, Afshin engages the audience as well as his fellow musician friends. In fact Mehrdad is known to have requested not to be seated next to Afshin for fear that: “he will make me laugh”. They sit at opposite ends now, but the percussionists still find plenty of talk time mid-performance, improvising back and forth, countering each other’s rhythms to the delight of all.
[See Photo Essay]

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For a generation to reach its defining moment, it must first find a balance between their inherited ancestry and their current environment. When asked whether the chicken came first or the egg, Namâd members agreed: “…it was definitely the chicken”. A specific vision brought these friends together and their existing bond made the realization of that vision more congruent. The greatest expressions of art come from the heart itself, or more precisely from those who are best acquainted with the content of their hearts. Unconcerned with commercialized trends, the group seeks to convey the message that speaks true to them; the social weight and relevance of the lyrics combined with the original compositions in a new form of music, now the trademark of Namâd. There is equal synergy between the music and poetry, as with the five members of this wonderful ensemble. Discussing these variations and the evolution of Iran’s classical music, Kourosh sums up the group’s sentiments through a quote from his teacher and mentor; Mohammad Reza Lotfi: Iranian music is not an untouchable antique incapable of variance. Change itself is the essence of art, without which there can be no creation. The stronger the foundation of music, the more modification it can endure in its structure, and performance.


Namad Ensemble will play at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, in Berkeley, California on Sunday, March 29th, 2009. Get there early, grab a good seat and prepare to enjoy yourself as much as they will enjoy performing for you.


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Super performance!

by Wendy (not verified) on

Thanks to Pouria I saw this wonderful performance of Persian music with a nice group of people. I had no clue what to expect or what the lyrics were about (I'm a Dutch girl), but the music and the voice of the singer were so emotional and the atmosphere in the room so intense, that it all didn't matter. It was great and brought up sad and beautiful images, and the second song even brought up some tears. Thanks Namad for this experience.


True music, true talent...

by Sara K (not verified) on

True music, true talent... It's absolutely refreshing to see such great musicians coming together to form such unique group. Their music truely speaks to one's soul and draws you in!!



by Niloufar Rezvani on



I'm glad to see such serious

by Namâd (not verified) on

I'm glad to see such serious musicians who work very hard for the music of their homeland, Iran. The genuine work of these promised musicians outside Iran is even more valuable than the work of those who practice and propagate Persian music in Iran.


Go for Namaad.

by Parvin (not verified) on

Although I was not interested in this kind of music but for the first time,in company with my husband (Who is their fan) got fmiliar with them at their concert in Orange county plaza,Irvine and then got interested to see their performance again at LACMA. Los Angeles.Go for NAMAAD,enjoy the music and poetry while you support them for more and different performances.


Lucky You!

by Yara on

I have been to their concerts and  I love Namaad's music.  They are great! Don't miss it!


Looking Forward to hear some good music

by Zahra M (not verified) on

Looking forward to your concert on Sunday in Berkeley. We've been waiting for this concert/CD release in the Bay Area for way too long.


They're good

by Anonymous on

I live in Boston but was in Los Angeles for Norooz and I got invited by a friend of mine to see them perform at L.A.C.M.A. (I think it stands for Los Angeles County Museum of Arts). I had never heard of them before but I’m glad I went to se them. I’m not a big Persian classical fan, but these guys were good and I really enjoyed their work. I even bought their CD and gave a couple to my friends as aydi.


It worth........

by Ganjineh (not verified) on

It worth to attend their concert.One time is more than enough for those who are less familiar with traditional persian music to attend one of their concerts to be hooked and follow such a group like Namad.A young group with well knowledged and experinced members whos performance takes you to a traditional music trip with the modern poetry.
"Ba ankeh dare meikadeh ra baaz bebastand"Still you get spiritually "Mast" for better perception of Foroogh's poem and her freedom of mind when you listen to the original Ossyan CD.


Great Article

by Peter Simon (not verified) on

I don't know these guys but the article was written so beautifully that I started googling them. Wow I am there on Sunday!


Mersedeh jan, thank you for

by poetryfan (not verified) on

Mersedeh jan,

thank you for your charming article, I am certain we'll hear of Namad much more in the upcoming years.


I went to Ossyan as well,

by Nicole Agah (not verified) on

I went to Ossyan as well, several months ago, and I cannot wait to see it again in Berkeley.


Absoloutly fantastic

by Meggi (not verified) on

Undoubtly Ossyan is one of the best performancesof Namaad.I guess there are two important points which actualy make their performances so beautiful. First : the extraordinary spiritual & emotional harmoney, and connection between all which make their work that lovely, and heart touhing. Second : The selecction of the lyrics,and consequently the poets are perfectly designed,as the poets are the very special,or rather unique in their gendre of iranian poetry in one hand, and on the other hand they have been particularly concerned about different social,as well as cultural issues of their people during their peculiar course of their lives, reason for which they are respected,and loved by Iranians.

Congratulations guys ! Go ahead!


Well done guys.

by Bibi Kasrai (not verified) on

I completely agree with Mersedeh. I have watched these talented artists many times at different venues and their chemistry is what moves the audience time and time again. As the daughter of Kasrai and an admirer of Forough, I told Koroush that he and his group have been able to channel the soul of these poets. I only wish they were alive to see a new generation bond with them. Thank you.


Fantastic music

by pouria3 (not verified) on

I find this very astonishing, even when the lyrics are not present, the music itself talks to you, it communicates with you in a very distinctive way.

thank you for doing such a great job



Makers of great music!

by yahooligan83 (not verified) on

I heard Namad through a friend and we are going to see them this weekend. Being a filipino, their music has struck a chord with me and I am proof that their art transcends cultural boundaries. Can't wait for this weekend!


I attended their concert in

by Aria Fanee (not verified) on

I attended their concert in San Diego, brought bunch of American friends too. Apart from the wonderful poetry they performed, their music was truly heart-felt and joyful. My friends, who had no background in Persian music or poetry, loved the concert as well.
These musicians represent the generation that I would like to connect to, and I will not hide my bias, that this is an aspect of my culture that I would like to introduce to others too.


Great Work! Thank you

by Sogol (not verified) on

I saw their performance in LACMA 2 weeks ago and they were just amazing! The incredible bond, connection and friendship that you mentioned were apparent in their performance. It was just great to hear the message and emotions of Forough Farrokhzad and Siavosh Kasraei resonating in a museum in Los Angeles far away from their land! Their mission was definitely accomplished. Thank you Namad and keep on playing music for us!