Making music, not war

On Saturday, June 28, when the fear of looming war against Iran was on the rise, here, in Prague, Iranian and Israeli musicians came together to perform in a warm and memorable concert in a prestigious and the oldest Czech world music festival, Respect, in a Woodstockesque flavor and atmosphere. [photos]

Saeed Shanbehzadeh, a maestro of Ney-Anban (or as we call it in southern Iran: Ney-Anbooneh), after an hour of playing Bushehri ethnic music together with his 15 year old son Nagheeb, a very skilled drummer and percussionist, invited two Israeli percussionists participating in the festival to join them and let the people listen to an improvisation.

Shanbehzadeh has been based in Paris for the last five years and has not been to Iran, because his music does not match the Islamic Republic’s decency codes. Ironically, before inviting his Israeli colleagues to the stage, he explained to the audience that as an Iranian, he can not travel to Israel. “It is mentioned in my passport that the holder of this passport is not entitled to travel to the occupied Palestine.”

Then Saeed, Nagheeb and the two Israeli percussionists started to play an improvisation by Ney-Anban, Timpo and Tonbak.

As the show drew to a close, Saeed reminded the excited and ecstatic audience, “Did you see? Now with music, I traveled to Israel and the Israelis travelled to Iran…” The audience responded with delight and roaring applause.

Next day, while the danger of war with Iran was still looming, the most popular daily in the Czech Republic described the event as “Respect festival, in its best year, linked Iran with Israel.”

The Czech newspaper added: “They improvised and everybody got the impression that Iranian and Israeli musicians do not care about the politico-religious issues between policy makers. In the field of music, there is no dispute between them and both nations have great culture(s) … what the audience appropriately valued.”

After the concert, Saeed Shanbehzadeh who is very familiar with World Music events and is a well known musician in international festivals such as WOMAD, told me that in different places like Singapore, he had played with Israeli musicians to show audiences that, people of Iran, are not willing to wipe Israel off the map.

I personally know Saeed since the late 80’s when I was living with my family in Bushehr. During that time we used to call him Ferazoo, and I still remember his strong motivation to reach success in music and in sports (I think he became a champion once in middle distance running in the province).

In his effort to send the massage of peace by performing with musicians from a country labeled as the archenemy of the Islamic Republic, Saeed is not trying to behave ostentatiously or in a conspicuous way. His intention is not to use such gestures to make a name for himself among Iranians or in the wider international arena.

Saeed wishes to be a representative of unknown Iranian musicians who put a lot of effort into their music in a place where their art is not appreciated by the government. Not only they endure official restrictions and pressures in their daily work but it is also hard for them to travel abroad and present their music to non-Iranian music lovers.

Shanbehzadeh believes that lack of government support makes Iranian music more and more isolated and the ones who are potentially the true love and peace messengers of the people of Iran can not get a chance to make their voices heard in the world.

Such an atmosphere gives a chance to “unqualified musicians to pick up an instrument like Tar, Setar, Tonbak and make themselves established as guardians of Persian music.”

Saeed Shanbehzadeh has played Bushehri ethnic music alongside other famousartists from the four corners of the world in different international jazz and World Music festivals, including Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD.

As we were having a friendly chat during his trip to Prague, he joked about the situation of Iranian music abroad and said “the efforts of those who profess to be the guardians of Iranian music abroad, while no one knows their music, shouldn’t be taken so seriously, and there is a Persian proverb which truly expresses this situation by saying: LAAF DAR GHORBAT, VA GOOZ DAR BAZAR-E MESGAR-HAA.”

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Meet your Persian Love Today!