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Music has the ability to transcend any language or cultural barrier, and Iran has come a long way in this art. From classical vocalists to traditional folk groups and modern fusion singers and bands, Culture Trip explores nine Iranian musicians that you need to know.
The first on any list of must-know Iranian musicians is none other than legend Mohammad Reza Shajarian. Widely considered “Iran’s greatest living maestro of Persian classical music”, Shajarian rose to fame in the 1960s and continues to share his goose-bump inducing voice at the age of 76. He has numerous awards under his belt, including two Grammy nominations, and his son, Homayoun, continues his tradition and is popular among the younger generation.
A traditional vocalist, Alireza Ghorbani got his start by reciting the Quran before some serendipitous meetings with well-known Iranian conductors open new doors for him. Since this time, he’s performed in countless national and international festivals and concerts and has been the vocalist for Iran’s National Orchestra for almost two decades. His voice will reach the depths of your soul and have you appreciate the beauty of the Persian language, even if you don’t understand a word of it.
Dubbed ‘Iran’s Pavarotti’ by The Christian Science Monitor, Shahram Nazeri is another classical Iranian vocalist and skilled setar player whose vocals are sure to take your breath away. Born to a Kurdish family, it was Nazeri who was one of the first to set the poems of Sufi poet Mowlana (better known as Rumi in the west) to traditional Persian and Kurdish classical music. His son, Hafez, continues in his father’s footsteps.
Formed in 2011, Chaartaar is a four-member band that fuses electronic music with traditional Persian vocals. After the success of their first album, ‘You are the Rain’, the band went on to record their second, ‘The Road’s Dancing’. Chaartaar is no stranger to touring either, selling out concerts in Iran almost as soon as tickets go on sale, as well as performing internationally in cities such as London and Rotterdam. This band is a true homage to the creativity and style of contemporary Iranian music-making.
You may have heard of or even been lucky enough to have seen Rastak perform live in one of their international concerts. Formed two decades ago by Siamak Sepehri, this Iranian group studies folkloric music and dialects from regions throughout Iran and reinterprets the sounds by adding a contemporary twist, the result of which has preserved the richness of Iranian culture and traditional musical styles as well as exposed it to a wider audience. Watching Rastak play is witnessing a performance of heart and soul, one that is sure to captivate yours as well.
Combine the guitar, clarinet, cello, and contrabass with traditional vocals led by Omid Nemati and what you get is Pallett. Rather unconventional in their makeup, this band has taken Iran by storm. Starting in 2009, the band played smaller concerts before being featured on the soundtrack of Shahram Makri’s ‘Fish and Cat’. Soon after this, they shattered record sales in Iran and performed 12 sold-out concerts in Tehran’s Azadi Tower. Since then, the group has toured domestically and held several shows in Europe as well as concerts in four Brazilian cities while touring the country during the 2014 World Cup.
A masterful mix of wind, string, piano, and traditional Iranian percussion instruments like tombak make up the ensemble of Dang Show. Set to the brilliant lyrics of Rumi’s poems, this group like few others is able to convey the depth of the poems’ meanings, tempting listeners to learn Persian for no other reason than to understand these poems in the original language. After listening to this band, it’ll be easy to see why Persian is the language of poetry.
Singer-songwriter Mohsen Chavoshi is probably best recognized by his unique raspy voice. He dabbled in rock and included traditional Persian instruments, putting a twist on the genre. He’s released many albums including the soundtrack to the 2007 film ‘Santouri‘, and more recently composed and sang several pieces to the lyrics of Rumi’s poems for the hit TV series, ‘Shahrzad’, which featured Taraneh Alidousti and Shahab Hosseini, both of whom also starred in Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning movie ‘The Salesman’.
The city of Shiraz gives us Nima Sarafi and Pouya Sarafi who form Kako Band, which means ‘band of brothers’ in the Shirazi dialect. This vocal fusion duo is one of the unparalleled voices coming out of Iran. Even many Iranians hearing them for the first time believe they are listening to a foreign band because of the ‘lyrics’. And although fans claim to be able to make out a foreign language, the band insists they are meaningless vocals, having perfected their sound over years. The group presents a universal sound that can be enjoyed across borders.