A night with Aghili

A little over a week ago I was on my lunch break at work, and like all good Iranian children, I called home to check in with my mother. She picked up and began to yell “AGHILI IS COMING!” I laughed and asked what she was talking about, and instead of an explanation I just kept getting “Aghili is coming, Aghili is coming!”

What you have to understand is that I, like many children of immigrants, was raised on shoddy VHS recordings of music videos and worn tape cassettes made in Iran during the 70's. Somewhere between the pop sounds of Googoosh and Sattar though, I fell in love with the majestic voice of Houshmand Aghili.

Growing up it was pretty much assumed that I'd never get the opportunity to hear Aghili sing in person, the pre-revolution musicians who perform usually have shows in New York and Los Angeles and Iranians stuck down in Atlanta either fork out money for a plane ticket or sigh and pop in a “Greatest Hits” collection.

You can understand my disbelief then when I had my mother repeating, “Aghili is coming, Aghili is coming!” without any sort of explanation. I assumed that she misunderstood an ad or gossip about Shadmehr or even Hooman Aghili and quickly got off the phone.

Once I arrived home she explained to me that one of my khalehs (you know the one, she's the oldest who is always first to hear and spread the latest Iroony news and gossip) had seen an ad in Pardis, the Iranian newspaper, for Aghili, yes Houshmand Aghili. He was to perform in Atlanta, actually a northwest suburb of Atlanta, about a six minute drive from my house at a new Iranian restaurant/cabaret called “.”

Now, if I were to review The Cabaret in this article, the next two paragraphs would go into detail about how unorganized the owner is, how it was impossible to reach anyone at the restaurant, how I was given incorrect information regarding the show, how the phone number for the restaurant which was provided in the ad was for a FAX LINE, however this is about Aghili, not the train wreck of a restaurant he was performing in.

My mother and I arrived at The Cabaret on Friday (July 15th) around 9:00. We ate incredibly bland and overpriced kabob and finished up with tea made from cheap teabags. Around 11:00 Shabahang (whose frontman is the owner of The Cabaret) took the stage and bored everyone to tears until finally he walked out.

And he did just… walk out. He caught most of us off guard, strutting out from somewhere in the back; he swooped up the microphone and began singing immediately, before we were done clapping. He was incredible. There really are not words for this man's voice. Before attending the concert I told myself to not get my hopes up, he is an older man now; he may not be able to sing the same way.

Oh how wrong I was.

He belted out tune after tune, the classics, the pop songs, and provided more than a few funny stories in between. Among the songs performed (and I only remember these since they are some of my favorites) were “Farda to Meeaee,” “Shen-e Daagh” (probably known better as “Daryaa“) and “Yek Yari Daram.” Now, I cannot speak for the rest of the people there, especially those like my mother who had seen Aghili perform in Iran, but I thought his performance was spectacular.

Maybe I feel that way because I've been obsessed with this man since I was able to speak, maybe because halfway through a song he came up to me, grabbed my hand and and as a result my heart stopped. Maybe I feel that way because this man could sing the Hokey Pokey with a head cold and I'd still thing he'd have the most exquisite voice on the planet. It doesn't matter though, the point is that Houshmand Aghili is every bit as marvelous at 68 as he was when he first started singing.

Now, the only distraction from this amazing voice was the music provided by Shabahang, which was pretty horrifying according to everyone, including Aghili himself. He stopped more than once and asked them to just not play, to allow him to first sing and then follow along. It was loud, obnoxious and half the time we could not recognize what song they were attempting to play until he began singing.

If I could subtract Aghili from the equation, the night was pretty awful. Mr. Shabahang does not know how to perform music nor does he know how to run a restaurant. Perhaps I will save the horror stories regarding the food for a later article. For this one though, I will close with a few (blurry) photographs taken from the show and this: although seeing Aghili aged was a bit of a shock, he completely lived up to the near godlike image I've been creating for him in my head since I was a child. He was a thousand times better than I could have ever imagined and I feel honored to have been able to share a room with him while he sang at least once in my life.

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