Galeet Dardashti's "Monajat"Dedicated to Muslims and Jews everywhere
Diaspora Iranian Jew Galeet Dardashti's family tree is steeped in musical history.
Not only was her grandfather, Younes Dardashti, a famed singer of classical Persian music feted throughout Iran, but he was also a renowned cantor in synagogues in his native Iran providing vocal music for religious ceremonies and especially the month around the high holidays of the Jewish faith, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
In fact, one of the few recordings Dardashti senior left behind for his family is of him reciting the selihot, the poetic Jewish prayers chanted before and during this period.
While Dardashti barely knew her grandfather and could hardly communicate with him since he only spoke Farsi, it was the aforementioned recording that started her on her own musical career, triggering a lasting fascination with Jewish Iranian music and Sephardic culture in general.
Monajat, which means communication with God, fittingly commemorates this inspiration. It features songs both by her grandfather, with recordings of his voice joining hers in song, and recordings Dardashti has created, based on the musical traditions her grandfather followed.
While she may be the first woman in her family to carry on the musical tradition, Dardashti and her grandfather aren't the only family members who were involved in the production of Monajat. Hazzan Farid Dardashti – her father – is also listed as adapting or interpreting some of the tunes.
Ties between Muslims and Jews
Galeet Dardashti has said that one of her main reasons for making this album was she felt people needed reminding of the close ties that once existed between the Muslim and Jewish communities in Iran and elsewhere.
Since her grandfather used to perform sacred Jewish music in the synagogue and Persian classical music on the radio and in concert halls, she has created an album around both genres.
Listening to the songs featured is a fascinating experience. They are a seamless blend of traditional and modern sounds and technology.
She makes no effort to disguise or doctor her grandfather's old recordings that she sampled for the tracks, lending them an air of authenticity that might otherwise be lacking.
Whether Younes Dardashti's voice is backed by samples of the Iranian National Orchestra or the modern musicians on the record, the quality is that of a voice from another time and place. The album's title and closing track "Monajat" is hauntingly, uniquely beautiful.
Dardashti senior gives the album the historical context necessary for his granddaughter to offer us her own interpretations of classical Persian music. True to her intent, Galeet Dardashti has drawn upon Persian sources for a number of these pieces, including the 8th song on the album, "New Year Invitation", based on a poem by famed Sufi mystic and poet Rumi.
Shared devotion to the Almighty
"The lily is telling its bud:/Wake up! Why are you still asleep?/There is the wine/And the handsome youth/The sweet basil and/The tulips are also raising glasses!/The hyacinth flower/Discretely but sweetly whispered/in the ear of a hidden flower/Whose gift is all of this/If not bestowed by God?'
With music adapted by Hazzan Farid Dardashti from Ataollah Khorram's song "Nooroz" – Khorram was an Iranian contemporary of Dardashti senior – we also have multiple connections leading back to both Iran and the artist's own family history. While the songs are sung in either Farsi or Hebrew, there are English translations included for a number of the tracks. This allows listeners to appreciate the poetry of the songs and to hear the beauty that has inspired the music.
The fourth song on the album, "Wine Song For Spring", was written by Moses Ibn Ezra, a 12th-century Jewish poet and philosopher from Granada, with music by Galeet Dardashti adapted from a song by another Iranian contemporary of her grandfather's, Virguen.
"The cold season has slipped away like a shadow/The rains are already gone, its chariots and its horsemen/The hills have adorned themselves with turbans and flowers/And the plain has robed itself in tunics of trans and herbs/it greets our nostrils with the incense/Hidden in its bosom all winter long."
Modern jazz meets Persian classical
The song is spellbinding. Musically it has elements of modern jazz with its upbeat tempo and intricate percussion. Yet, it also incorporates what can only be called elements of Persian classical music. Listen to the sweeping melodies and the instruments being used, especially the hammered dulcimer and the hand percussion, and you can't help but realise that this has as many similarities with Iran, as it does with North American jazz.
What is amazing is how well it works. Like the mixing of her grandfather's voice into other songs, here the amalgamation of old and new is seamless. Dardashti and her band ably convince the listener that the lyrics of an eleventh century Jewish poet and the music of a twentieth century Iranian singer were written for one another.
Monajat is a glorious album celebrating both the life of the man who was once known as the "Nightingale of Iran" – Younes Dardashti – and the close connection between classical Persian and Jewish music. Dardashti senior's contemporaries in Iran do not appear to have found it odd that on Saturdays he was the cantor in his synagogue, while appearing on stages all around Iran singing a repertoire that included songs by Rumi and other Persian mystics the rest of the week.
This album is affirmation that Iranians and Jews – those we have been led to believe are not similar in the slightest – share plenty on a cultural level. With her latest release, Galeet Dardashti has made a powerful statement about the common ground they share.
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