Freedom to explore

Interview with Mamak Khadem on her new album "Jostojoo"


Freedom to explore
by Babak Khiavchi

In her new solo recording “Jostojoo” (Forever Seeking), Mamak Khadem aims to create music that is deeply connected to the Persian classical and folk music she has studied most of her life, but liberated from dogmatic considerations of form, instrumentation, and lyrical content [see video "Baz Amadam"]. Khadem will be in concert in Los Angeles (Jan 31), San Diego (Feb 1) and Berkeley (Feb 3). [Details]. My email interview with her:

Most music lovers know you from your brilliant work with Axiom of Choice. How is your solo album "Jostojoo" different from your work with Axiom of Choice?

Jostojoo” has been a very personal journey for me. I have had the freedom to explore a variety of different regional and folk melodies not only from Iran but from Greece, Turkey and Armenia and experiment with arrangements that are contemporary and cross over a lot of different musical styles – such an exciting challenge. Axiom was a collective experience; a collaboration. With “Jostojoo”, the genesis has been a calling from within me to revisit melodies that have been on my mind for many years. And, I have had the opportunity to work with so many amazing musicians on the different tracks; people like Omar Faruk Tekbilek and Jamshied Sharifi. It has been like a dream come true. As with Axiom, I am still moved to explore Iranian poetry; Rumi, and the exciting contemporary poets working in Iran. They are voices that I continue to turn to for inspiration.

How did this project come together?

It all started with my interest to travel to these regions, Armenia, Turkey and Greece, to learn more about their cultures and music in particular. I wanted to explore the differences in these traditions. Instead I ended up discovering how many things we all share - especially in music. I first thought about doing these beautiful songs in their original languages but I soon realized that I can express myself more openly and effectively in my native language, Farsi. So I married the work of some Persian master poets such as Rumi and Shamloo to the melodies. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to use musicians from Iran as well as non-Iranian musicians and I am so thrilled with the combination of players on this album from folk traditions, contemporary world music and from the jazz scene. The product is a music that is fusion but still can be categorized as world music.

Other than “Jostojoo”, what have you been up musically since your last collaboration with Axiom of Choice on "Unfolding"?

I have been mostly involved with music for visual arts, something I find extremely interesting. I collaborated with composer Eve Beglarian for a play called Aeschylu’s Choephorae which is an ancient Greek tragedy. This story reminded me of our own Ferdowsi and the tales we have in Shahnameh, The play was premiered in Patras Greece 2006 with an all female cast and crew. I sang live on stage and was the voice of Clytemnestra. I also sang and recorded Mohammad Reza Darvishi’s score for two plays written and directed by Bahram Beyzaii called Majleseh Shabih and Afra which is still being shown at Vahdat Auditorium. I’ve also become very interested in teaching and am working with music students in Iran, California, Greece and Ireland. It is exciting to see so many people around the world interested in Persian vocal technique and styling. I hope that in my role as a singer, I can be a bridge between the rich tradition of Iranian music and culture and young artists who are working in contemporary arts movements. I hope to inspire them to make their own journeys like the one that I am on with the creation of “Jostojoo”.

Up coming concerts?

* Los Angeles. Skirball Cultural center January 31st, 2008
* San Diego, San Diego state University February 1st, 2008
* Berkeley, Ashkenaz music and dance Center February 3rd, 2008
* We also will be having some dates coming up spring of 2008 on the East Coast.

Who are you collaborating with on this “Jostojoo” tour?

I am currently touring with Jamshied Sharifi who produced this album with me and brings his dynamic contemporary arrangements to life on keyboard; Ole Mathisen, from the world of jazz on Clarinet and Saxophone; Hamid Saeidi from Iran on Santur (This is the first time Hamid has performed in the United States); Chirs Wabich an amazing percussionist who also plays with Omar Faruk Tekbilek; Naser Musa who is internationally known for his soulful Oud playing, and singers Ronda Berkeley and Yasi Fillion on back vocals.


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