Famed Persian folk musician, vocalist and composer Amir Vahab helped students release their “celestial bodies” Tuesday.
Accompanied by two members of his ensemble, Soroosh, Vahab explained and read poetry about various musical instruments and played his music to a crowd of over 30 at a Silliman College Master’s Tea. Vahab’s talk centered on the cultural vitality of music.
To begin the session, Vahab gave a structured walk-through of several Persian instruments — such as the Ney, which is somewhat like a flute, as well as the Setar, a stringed instrument . After he discussed each instrument, he would play a short piece on it. The rainy weather outside sometimes echoed his rhythmic music: at the climaxes of some pieces, audience members could hear distant thunder rolling.
Vahab — who studied linguistics at the University of Paris — displayed not only his instrumental skills but also his skill with words. Much of the Persian poetry he recited and the music he played dealt with spirituality. Borrowing the words of the Persian poet Rumi, he said music helps people release their “celestial bodies” from their “terrestrial bodies.”
“The music is religious and spiritual but we dance to it,” Vahab said. “We dance like crazy, because we are intoxicated with divine love. Each song is different. Some make you wonder, some make you delve within, and some make you joyous.”
Born in Tehran, Iran but now a resident of New York City, Vahab has performed all around the world, but much of his musical education took place in London and Paris. In addition to playing traditional Persian folk songs, he composes his own music that interprets his culture . Vahab is one of the world’s most revered players and composers of Persian folk music.
Vahab displayed his passion for the music throughout, often times closing his eyes and smiling while singing. But not lost in his passion for the music was a lighthearted demeanor Vahab brought to the Master’s Tea. When a student asked him how a Ney typically lasts, Vahab’s response elicited laughter throughout the room.
“Well, the Ney is somewhat fragile, so I think about 200 years,” Vahab said.
Alexi Nazem ’04 –whose idea it was to bring Vahab to Yale — said he wanted to share the music he grew up listening to with other Yalies.
“Instead of listening to Frank Sinatra or singers like that, I listened to Persian music,” Nazem, who is Iranian, said. “So this music is special to me and I wanted to share it.”
Most of the crowd, including Leila Rastegar ’05, showed their appreciation for Vahab’s performance by applauding throughout the session.
“What I loved is how he incorporated like a lot of the language, the poetry, which is a huge part of the culture,” Rastegar said. “And also how he translated so everyone could understand, and how he incorporated with the singing and the music, I thought was incredible.”
Vahab has put out six albums of his own music and traditional music, and has composed for Iranian theater and film.