Persian classical music with oomph!

See Hamed Nikpay in concert this Friday at Beyond Persia’s 1 year anniversary bash Winter SOLH Fest at the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco.

Hamed Nikpay
is that rare triple threat you don’t run into that often. He appears to have it all. Brains, Talent , and (damn him!) Good Looks. In preparing for introducing him (to those of you who don’t know him yet), I was finding it a bit difficult, and have been more than a bit stymied as to how best to describe him to newcomers to his music. Best to just jump right in. Hopefully you’ll get it and become a huge fan like I am.

First off, I have to say that along with my rather vocal opposition to the tripe known as 6/8, the next most displeasing sound I can name is the overdone traditional Persian Classical music, or Sonnati. I apologize for any disrespect. But I can’t lie. The feigned mysticism and white robed new age spirituality of the Alizadeh and [Shajarian] Iranian Government sponsored concerts in Germany variety. There, I’ve said it. Nothing against you if you like it, I hope you understand why I can understand why you (and lots of other people) may like it. It’s just not my personal favorite cup of chaie.

However, what I am interested in and constantly on the lookout for, is our new musical evolution. Which is why I was initially intrigued by Hamed’s proposition. Having now listened to a good chunk of the body of work Hamed has produced, if anyone can get me to listen to Persian Classical music, and it’s endlessly complex rule-ridden Dastgahs and Radifs (shoor & shirin), it is going to be Hamed. But just because Hamed can chah-chah with the best of them doesn’t mean that is where he is going. In fact, as it turns out, he is charting new territory. Boldly and with great purpose.

What I don’t like about some classical music is it’s constant repetition of the main theme. first major, then a minor, then a 7, high, low, and over and over and over until you want to scream. That and the boring performances by the actual artists, who usually sit there with a fake look of serious concern and arrogant indignation on their faces, with the air and attitude that says, “Why am I wasting my time with these idiots, they can’t possibly comprehend the importance of what I am singing”. Or possibly, “I can’t believe I am being paid so little.”. I know it’s supposed to be spiritual that way, but I come from that lost post-seventies disco generation that believes that music is supposed to move the audience. Not darooni, but birooni! I want to be taken away to action and excitement, not contemplative self-examination, and re-examination, and re-examination, and re-exam… you get the idea. Unfortunately I do enough re-examination of my life and mistakes, driving to work every day. I don’t [always] need it in my music. And exactly how much self examination does one need anyhow? And I don’t want to let go, as the Standard sufi stuff would have me do. Sometimes I just want to go. And no spinning! Spinning just makes me dizzy, and nauseous.

Hamed seems to get my point, but more importantly, he delivers what I crave. A bold new direction, with a hint of deference to the past, just enough to make it distinguished and classy. And being an Iranian human with an overdeveloped ego, needless to say, I like when I get what I want!

Hamed brings a much needed energy and raw passion to his performances. You can’t get this from two-dimensional recordings as much, but if you listen carefully, it’s there. Live though, there is that rare magic between performer and audience, a twinkle in the eye that comes at you personally, that gives you a chill and tingly feeling you often hope (and pay) for, but never seem to get at most live performances these days. And whatever you do, don’t make eye contact with him, unless you want to go to where he is in his captivating performances, which is a wonderful place, one from which you are lazy to come back from.

Hamed’s music is complicated with deep twists and turns that raise important questions. There are many melodic nooks and crannies that hook you and drag you into the complete creation. At the end of a song, you find yourself missing certain parts and wishing you had listened better. And you will listen to them more than once. Good thing for you that you can rewind and replay them. (Sorry, in the seventies we had these things called cassette tapes!).

The perfect refreshing blend of old and new, Hamed brings the best of the older catchier classical riffs and styles, the good stuff of tar and ney, and his unforgettable voice, into a very modern and ultra hip groove that also sounds familiar. Loungey, perfect with those fruity vodka infusions. At times I can hear the influence or simply coincidental, of an ever so subtle Miles Davis-tinged melody.

The one criticism I can make is that for the time he has been available to enjoy, Hamed has been mysteriously absent from the stage and access to his live performances are hard to find. This should hopefully be resolved after this Friday, December 7th at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, during the 1st year anniversary celebration of Beyond Persia. Hamed will be performing new works, onstage along with rockers Kiosk, as well as pianist Arjang Rad. This should be another killer event following on the first ever rock concert when the Abjeez and Kiosk tore up the Great American Music Hall this past April.

Bahmani: How long have you been studying music, at what age did you start?

Hamed: At age 7 years old I started singing lessons 9 when I started tar setar. I first performed professionally at the age of 17 in the Vahdat theatre in Tehran in 1999.

Bahmani: What is the best way to describe your music?

Hamed: My music is world fusion, the thread is from traditional Persian classical singing and playing, but because I have been open and exposed to gypsy and western music, I have been influenced by the western harmonies, and it has become matched in my musical heart and head. I can now blend Iranian music with any type of music. The only exceptions are those specially unique tones and chord combinations that are so uniquely Persian, that they cannot be combined with western music. They must stand entirely alone. I still bring hem in now and then, but necessarily have to keep them isolated. Which in itself adds an interesting dimension. To me fusion must work without losing any of the original sound and melody. A fusion performer must be flexible to allow all grooves to affect and influence them, to work out their blend. The technique I use is to try to better understand new music in a physical space, not just to sing, but to respect and recognize the resulting emotion it inspires in the listener. Most fusion musicians today don’t tune into the emotional state of the listener. Why does village music from Iran or Gypsy music affect people the way that they do? You have to allow the music to be part of the emotional process. Fusion to me, is not as simple as adding an electrical guitar or a sax to the tar and ney.

Bahmani: What was the situation for you performing in Iran?

Hamed: I was doing quite well, probably one of the only formal fusion singer composers there when I started. I have a Bachelors in Western Composition from Tehran University. But I wanted to expand my music and that is why I decided to come out to the west in March of 2005.

Bahmani: Recently there seems to be a blossoming of Persian rock, what do you think about groups like Kiosk? What is their role?

Hamed: I think that rock musicians like Kiosk, are great in that, they speak out with these really great and smart lyrics about the social realities of the world. And I personally love that kind of songwriting. For me as someone who likes all kinds of music, and the emotional connection it can make to a listener, I love seeing this happening.

Bahmani: So besides performing, what else are you doing now that you are here in the US?

Hamed: Since 2006 I have been producing music as a business, and I have a brand new recording studio to record my albums as well as to record other groups and artists in the world fusion area. My next album is going to be out in 2008 and will feature some new artists that I have been working with.

Bahmani: What can we expect in your upcoming concert on Dec 7th?

Hamed: I have done a lot of concerts, especially in Iran. Each performance for me is something new. The one thing I know is that it will be a variation on fusion. I have done Flamenco fusion here in the US, Jazz fusion in Germany, and Jazz/Indian fusion, of course Middle-Eastern fusion, so I’m all over the place. I’ve even used a Didgeridoo! This week, I am bringing six new American friends with me. And all I can say is there will be a new jazz-rock harmony effort, some entirely new compositions I have been preparing, all done with the same simple goal of generating an emotional fusion of East and West.

To learn more about Hamed Nikpay you can visit his website

To see if there are any tickets left to see Hamed Nikpay this Friday Dec. 7th, visit


To liste to podcast of Hamed’s music: Click Here

Meet Iranian Singles

Iranian Singles

Recipient Of The Serena Shim Award

Serena Shim Award
Meet your Persian Love Today!
Meet your Persian Love Today!