It was over two years ago when I wrote about my experience at one of Fared Shafinury’s concerts. Since then, Fared has moved to the Bay Area and we have become close friends.
We traverse this land, singing, writing, dancing, and most importantly, laughing out loud from our bellies. At times I remind myself that we are not Rumi and Shams-e Tabrizi, nor Thoreau and the trees, nor Sa’adi and Avicenna in a chance encounter on the Silk Road. I could focus on how different we are from those influential figures – but why not explore how similar we are? How similar we all are – and how our inspirational moments parallel theirs.
Fared has now released Behind the Seas, a 12-track album filled with his own moments of inspiration. Iranians in the Diaspora can sing, side-by-side, with those in the motherland, side-by-side with all races and cultures. Fared’s music echoes our forefathers and foremothers while being deeply rooted in the present day.
Unlike most gifted musicians, Fared does not try to intimidate or impress the listener. Instead, Fared’s music has the genius of simplicity and goes direct to the heart – it speaks to all: students, housewives, engineers, poets, musicians, etc.
Fared is a voice for us – us Iranians, Iranian-Americans, Americans with Persian souls, Americans with American souls, earthlings singing their uniform soulfulness. And he will help you sing your soul – perhaps by teaching you how to shake your voice like he does, or to hold and strum that most delicate of instruments, the setar.
I am speaking to the hyphenated Iranian here. I am speaking to those who yearn to know and appreciate Persian music and poetry. Don’t think you need to study seriously to do so – our art was created for people, not scholars. Don’t be so serious! I am speaking to a generation that has wanted to play Persian music loudly and proudly in front of Starbucks. Now you can.
As much we want to indulge in our Persian-ness, we must never forget the intention with which Cyrus the Great spoke. He recognized we are human before we are Persian. We must recognize the humane in all people before we can call ourselves Persian. Maybe then we won’t feel the urge to call ourselves anything but grateful. Fared recognizes this delicate balance; his music isn’t “Persian” – it mixes instruments, styles, and voices.
For me as an Iranian-American, I grapple with the Persian language at times and don’t understand most of the lyrics in Behind the Seas. I expect you won’t either. Don’t let that stop you from understanding the meaning. Each note in each melody has a place in my heart and can swim me away from my identity to help me remember who I really am, and who we all are: pure love.
The 11th track, Barafshan, at about 1:05, ends up making me shake my head, loosen my neck, close my eyes, and drum on any nearby surface. His melody here starts quiet and soft, having me prance around the room before it sweeps me into a friendly chorus I can sing along to. I know I can’t wait for ‘bani adam’, which means something about the universality of all people – and I know he really means it from the bottom of his heart.
What do poets say when you pay them a compliment? They humbly bow their heads, feeling analyzed and separate from their audience. If you want to express your appreciation of Fared’s music: close your eyes, open your heart, sing aloud at the top of your lungs, and forget who we so often pretend to be: individuals separate from the rest of humanity.
Fared Shafinury gives us that opportunity, and his debut album Behind the Seas opens your heart to this wisdom. This music is ours. It doesn’t belong to Fared or to a sacred book. It belongs in the air, leftover from the hearts of men and women who lived thousands of years ago, who wanted to share the love and unity they felt for all mankind. Sing the chorus, whistle the riffs – they are so sing-able and whistle-able!
When we go to concerts, we rarely throw our heads back and let our eyes creep into our skulls in ecstasy, the way those very Persian poets and musicians ask us to be. Are you willing to do that? The same part of Fared that asks that of you is the same part of Rumi. That part of Fared’s heart is the same part of every Sufi dervish and Persian poet – nay, all poets, musicians, and artists – nay, all human beings who at one time in their lives and felt the all-encompassing bliss that we live in if we only stayed aware of it.
So close your eyes and throw your head back – you are traveling through time, enjoying the artistry of all our great artists and creators. You are Persian. You are human. You are brother and sister with us all. Behind the seas there is a boat, and we must sail it together.