Zarbang San Diego concert review


by fbahrami

Zarbang's show last Friday night was uplifting, masterful, entertaining, fun, and appealing to both young and old, Iranians and non-Iranians, musicians and ordinary folks.

Now that you know how I feel about Zarbang's music, let me give you some background. Zarbang is the concatenation of two words: "zarb" (rhymes with "band") meaning "to strike" or "rhythm," and "bang" (rhymes with "song") meaning "song" or "call." The group was formed in 1996 in Germany by formidable Iranian percussionist Morteza Ayan, together with younger players Behnam Samani and Siavash Yazdanifar. Today, with a lineup of great new players from Iran and elsewhere, and more than ten years of worldwide touring experience, Zarbang has gone beyond being just an Iranian percussion ensemble to become a powerful new voice in world music.

Their San Diego show I attended was at the acoustically perfect Neurosciences Institute, where we've witnessed many great concerts in recent years. The two-part program was perfect: neither too short nor too long, showing off all instrumental combinations. Pejman Hadadi announced the program in Persian and English and the concert began.

The first half started with a tombak (goblet-shaped drum) quartet demonstrating the mastery and creativity of the players. For the second number, Javid Afsari joined the ensemble to play "Roya," his composition in Mahur (one of the main tonal systems — or dastgah — of Persian music) on santur (hammered dulcimer). Opening with a soothing daramad (non-metric solo improvisation), the piece soon gave way to a lively dialogue between melody and rhythm. Next, Mehrdad Arabi switched from tombak to kamancheh (spiked fiddle) and Behnam Samani from tombak to dammam (a two-headed folk drum from southern Iran), and the group played a folk tune named "Leyla" from Baluchestan. Finally, another composition by Mr. Afsari entitled "Call to Love" (also the title of Zarbang's latest CD) in dastgah Chahargah closed the set.

It would be hard to top the first half, but that's exactly what Zarbang did in the second half. "Morshed" is a title given to a master musician in the ancient zoor-khaneh ("house of strength" or gymnasium) tradition. The role of the morshed  in the zoor-khaneh is to motivate the athletes and lead their movements. To this end, he plays a large goblet-shaped drum — called zarb-e zoor-khaneh — and a bell, but also sings appropriate poetry in a style very unique and intense. Pejman Hadadi explained that in the second set Zarbang would combine two different rhythmic traditions: that of the zoor-khaneh with that of the khaneh-ghah (the Sufi tradition, where the daf

Morshed Mehregan is a leading Iranian musician in the zoor-khaneh tradition. He opened the second set with strikes to the bell and drumming before singing traditional welcoming lines from Ferdowsi, the great tenth-century epic poet. He then sang a poem entitled "Iran" by twentieth-century poet Bahar, moving on to a popular Sufi song, "Har Kasi," which featured the whole ensemble chanting the chorus. Javid Afsari traded his santur for another hammered instrument, the naghareh (two small drums), and so the only melodic instruments used in the second half were voices. The last two pieces, "Paaykoobaan" and "Abode of the Heart" raised the excitement level to such a degree that I have never heard so intense calls for an encore. The multi-talented Reza Samani switched from daf to sorna (traditional folk double-reed wind instrument) for this, and with their last number, Zarbang brought the house down.

Outside the hall, where the artists came to sign autographs and take pictures, everyone was high from the music. The variety and quality of the music and the coordination among the musicians made for a unique experience. I admit I had come expecting a percussion concert, but I left totally fulfilled musically.

Morteza Ayan would be proud.

Thanks to the Persian Cultural Center for presenting this wonderful concert and to, the Association of Iranian-American Professionals, and the Center for World Music for supporting it. My only suggestion in the future would be to lower the student price from $25 to $10 to attract a younger audience and also to fill the roughly 50 empty seats in the hall.

May 26, 2008

Farhad Bahrami

See samples here: //