Persian classical music with oomph!

Interview with vocalist Hamed Nikpay


Persian classical music with oomph!
by bahmani

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


more from bahmani

hamed nikpay

by shapour (not verified) on

we,re so happy that still there are some educated young artist ,musician,and singer who beside making money trying to create something new but has found with real persian music which definitly will have alot auditor specialy in young generation .it's not gonna happen without our support.we proud of him ,we ssupport him and believe persian music need something new to show change and move .thanks Mr.bahmani and thank you dear hamed ,keep going .


Thanks to everyone anonymous or not...

by bahmani on

For the spirited commentary on the state of our music! finally a conversation that does not include the US, and the word nuclear! I will gladly take all of your criticisms, because for once we are talking about something important for a change. What I think! Seriously though I enjoy the comments even the harsh ones, because it shows dialog and dialog is good. Half the time I write some controversial stuff just to pinch you guys and see if anyone is even listening and it is good to see people (occasionally) do. I am definitely not a fan of Persian classical, I think we've established that. Any one care to defend those crappy miniature paintings?


As a musician I believe

by M (not verified) on

As a musician I believe Hamed Nikpay knows exactly what he is doing and he is a fabulous vocalist and instrumentalist. He is doing an absolutely great job. He is very knowlegable about the notes and rythms and combining instruments to creat fusion but at the same time it is not just those notes and rythms and instruments that are pleyed by him, but it is also the emotion, spirit and beauty of his music that connect you with what he does.That is why when you go to his performances you become speechless because his music takes your breath away.


To Bahamni

by Anonymous-today (not verified) on

You're right, dude. You didn't call anybody an idiot. You attributed the insult to the supposed fake mystical traditional singers. It’s wonderful how you’re conducting a whole internal monologue on behalf of all these artists. I don't mind if you don't like traditional Persian music. I don't particularly care, say, for heavy metal myself but to deride a whole class of culture just causally is a bit rich and especially someone like Shajarian. I've listened to this guy, Nikpay, and he is promising. Some of his stuff works and some not quite. He of course didn't invent fusion and yes, I agree that music and culture has to open up but Mr. Nikpay has a long, long way to go to even be compared to a great master like Shajarian and his contributions to the culture. By the way I'm not an aficionado of Persian music, nor am I a cultural chauvinist but you pretend to be a journalist and the language you use, bunching everyone as fake and all that itself smacks of fake and phony "shit kicker" nonsense. Remember, Mr. critique, that true criticism is not just a matter of taste but to try to understand what you critiquing on its own terms and assess its worth based on that because believe me not many people care about your personal taste.


He is very good and ...

by Musicanonymous (not verified) on

... multifaceted but to praise something you don't have to put something else down.


A virtuoso for our time

by santurchi (not verified) on

Hamed is amazing. His improvisations are fresh, measured, with homage to the roots of the music, but infused with a fresh spirit. He obviously knows his instrument well and has a clear concept of music composition, with a range that is enviable. He is open to all kinds of sounds from tabla to jazz fusion and he makes it all work with Persian instrumentation. That is not easy to do, though others have attempted. I personally love Persian traditional music because I am a student of it and it grounds me. I get the melancholy side of the music because it is an expression of that time and that place. However, I have seen it butchered by musicians who try and take it to a new place and fail to do so. Hamed has fun playing with it, which comes through in his music, and he has successfully transcended Persian instrumentation to a new level with a style that is definitely his own. Bravo.


In Support of Traditional Persian Music...

by sgr (not verified) on

...I'll just say those who fail to grasp the beauty and gravity of it have never attempted to sing (or play on a traditional instrument) one single verse from, say, the works of the likes of Golpa or Marziyeh. They are clueless fools.

After all, would one expect a fool to appreciate the creative thinking and complexities involved in deriving mathematical equations???


Bahmani sayis "very real

by Anonymous34343444444 (not verified) on

Bahmani sayis "very real reality" is there another reality is not real? and can anything real be anything but very?
Without classical persian music, there would be no kiosk. It's a progression. One cannot dismiss one form of art in order to praise another. Sure, your taste may not like traditional music sonnati style. The fourth paragraph of your article is nothing but the rantings of an unsophisticated ear. I am not a fan of sonnati music but get a grip!

Nazy Kaviani

Music of love and hope

by Nazy Kaviani on

Hamed Nikpay is a fabulous young artist, full of heart and soul. To see him on stage is pure joy. Playing multiple instruments and singing refreshing renditions of Iranian fusion music, he mesmerizes his audience every time. I wouldn't miss the chance to see him perform. He is electric!


Anonymous_today: READ the article

by bahmani on

I never called anyone an idiot. I am not praising Kiosk either, I merely asked Hamed what he thought of the new phenomenon of rock (like Kiosk) which is a very real reality even if you may not be buying it. Also don't "Suspect" I don't like traditional Persian music, I actually said that I don't. I think Persian traditional or classical music is indulgent and looking backward, just like a miniature painting. It's OK if you like it, just don't expect me to. As I said, I'm looking for NEW. Not old. OLD = PAIN to me. Some people associate PAIN with the Blues, but to me it's just PAIN. I prefer pleasure. Since they are my ears, I get to choose what I like. Sorry if what I don't like, offends you and what you like.


Who're you calling an idiot?

by Anonymous-today (not verified) on

Who are the traditional musicians you call idiots? If you like fusion then fine. Fusion can be beautiful and the traditional Persian music should open up but traditional Persian music can never be disco. Just as there is pure Blues and then there is Rhythm & Blues, there will and should always pure traditional Persian music as well as its variation. It is the wellspring. Even in the old days people like Hayedeh and Golpayegani mixed traditional stuff with more pop melodies and scales. I suspect you simply don't like traditional Persian music which is fine. You want to rock then rock but please stop over-praising bands like Kiosk as if they are the saviors of the culture and dump indiscriminately on the traditional musicians.