The Vashaan Ensemble focuses on classical and folk music from Khorasan and Baluchistan in eastern Iran with vocalist Fathieh Honari singing in both Farsi and Baluch. Listen to “Halo Halo” from their new album at youtube.com/watch?v=co74Hy-sIBs.
AS a child, Hamin Honari would become transfixed watching Persian hand drummers swiftly pound out the traditional rhythms of his birth country.
“It’s mesmerizing what you can actually see people doing with their hands and the sound that comes out. It’s unbelievable,” says Hamin, who immigrated to Canada from Iran with his family when he was one year old.
He was 12 when he got serious about studying Persian music. At that time, it was difficult to import instruments from Iran, so Hamin developed his early drumming techniques by practising on an empty water bottle.
Today, the 29-year-old Burnaby resident is an accomplished percussionist, specializing in classical Persian drums such the goblet-shaped tombak.
It’s safe to say he won’t be playing a water bottle this Saturday when he performs with the six-member Vashaan Ensemble at Capilano University.
Hamin will be joined onstage by his father, Reza Honari, the group’s musical arranger and player of the Kamanche, a spiked fiddle. Hamin’s mother, Fathieh Honari, will provide vocals.
Reza and Fathieh both studied music extensively in Iran before they moved to Canada shortly after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
The other members of the ensemble are all close family friends of the Honaris. Ali Sajjadi plays the lute-like barbat and robab, and his wife, Saina Khaledi, plays the santour. Ali Razmi rounds out the group on the tar – an ancestor of the guitar.
The ensemble will play Iranian classical and folk music from their new album Vashaan.
“Our focus for this show is to highlight some of the more joyful melodies, especially of the eastern and southeastern parts of Iran,” Hamin says.
Concert-goers can expect to hear sounds native to Reza’s home-province of Khorasan and the region of Baluchistan, where Hamin was born.
Baluchistani music has not reached mainstream status in Iran, let alone Canada, says Hamin.
“It has a different sound. The music from that region almost sounds more Indian than it does Persian,” he says. “And because women aren’t allowed to sing in Iran, it’s very rare to hear a woman singing these songs,” he explains, noting his mother sings in both Farsi and Baluchi, a regional language.
When translated, the lyrics have a universal message.
“Pretty much every Persian song is about love, in some way or another,” Hamin says.
Preserving and promoting classical Persian music is important to the group, especially to Reza, who has travelled back to Iran to film a documentary about the music of Baluchistan. It aired on BBC Persian television.
But keeping the genre alive is not so difficult in the Lower Mainland, says Hamin. His is just one of a number of local Persian music ensembles thriving in the Vancouver area.
Roberty Benaroya, managing artistic director at Caravan World Rhythms, which is presenting Saturday’s concert, says Persian music, both classical and contemporary, has a big local following.
“The Iranian community is very loyal and supportive of all of their music, both of the local artists and performers as well as many international performing groups that tour here,” he says.
His goal is to encourage non-Iranians to learn about and appreciate the genre.
Benaroya likens the international popularity of Iranian music to that of Indian music four or five decades ago, before sitar legend Ravi Shankar took the world by storm.
“Nobody really knew about (Indian music), but then when (Shankar) came on the scene he really built bridges and worked with non-Indian artists to reach non-Indian audiences and people started loving it,” Benaroya said.
“So I’m hoping, with our work, that over time people will start really appreciating Iranian music as well.”