Music common language of all civilizations: Iranian vocal artist

Press TV – Iranian vocal artist Mohammad Saeidi says music is the common language of all civilizations and music lovers beyond Iran have a good understanding of Iranian music.

Here is a short biography of brothers Mohammad and Ali Saeidi — twin brothers who have been engaged in Iranian vocal art since tender age — and the transcript of a brief interview with them.

Ali and Mohammad Saeidi were born in Isfahan, Iran, on October 30, 1981. They became enamored of the ritualistic art of Ta’ziyeh when they heard its melodies as children. Their experience of work in the field of Ta’ziyeh, which helped them establish themselves and endure in the art, was also a beacon that helped them navigate in the field of Iranian vocal art.

Ali and Mohammad, known in the music world as the twins of Iranian vocal art, held their first concert as teenagers to support children with thalassemia, and it was in that concert that a distinguished Iranian writer and director, Amrallah Ahmadjou, invited them to sing for the title sequence of the documentary “Rag.” Years later, Ahmadjou had them sing for the title sequence of the movie series “Behind the Tall Mountains.”

The two singers have also held concerts in Freiburg, Germany, and at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory.

Their first album was named “Silent Citadel,” the profits from which they redirected to help finance cultural matters for the children orphaned in the earthquake that struck the Iranian city of Bam in 2003.

The two brothers were the students of Maestro Fazlallah Shahzamani, Mohammad-Ali Kianinejad, and Mohammad-Taqi Saeidi, and also had the opportunity to play the works of Jamshid Barazandeh and his late father, Maestro Abdolhossein Barazandeh, while closely cooperating with the former. Some of those songs became the permanent theme songs of certain programs on national media (radio and television), and they also appeared on such music-centered shows as Karevan-e She’r-o Moosiqi (Caravan of Poetry and Music), Seday-e Pay-e Ab (Water’s Footsteps), She’r-e Jooybar (The Poetry of the Stream). The piece “Negari Mani,” which was a melody in Isfahani accent sung by the two brothers, was released in April 2019 and was well received by Iranians both inside and outside the country.

Here is the transcript of an interview with them.

Q: You have been engaged in Iranian vocal art for years… what is it about Iranian vocal art that you are drawn to?

Ali Saeidi: Iranian vocal art is on the one hand a window to the land of Iranian music, and on the other, a poetic journey to the rose garden of the literature of the land of Iran, either of which is a refuge for man in the vicissitudes of life.

Q. The most important school of vocal art is Isfahan. Can you explain this school and its characteristics?

Mohammad Saeidi: Much has been said about the Isfahan school of vocal art, a school in which multiple singers once sang simultaneously but which perhaps only two singers — generously speaking — could be said to be singing today.
Improvisation, the magic combination of poetry and music, the individualistic-witty exploitation of radif, in such as a way that, if you had several singers sing in one instance, playing the same melody, singing the same poem, you would see variety and no repetition. There are other parameters, too, which have been talked about abundantly, and which I would not like to speak more about.

Q. What has been the status of vocal art since old times?

Mohammad: Since ancient times, the dominant culture in our country has been the oral culture, the reason for which was scant literacy. In such a society, narrative culture takes center stage. That is why Maestro Homayi has said vocal artists such as Maestros Taj and Adib will owe much to Hafez and Sa’di (two Iranian poets) on Last Judgement.

Vocal art brings the two elements of music and words together within the framework of culture.

“Her eyebrow is both the string of soul and the vein of heart,

have you seen anyone playing two instruments with one plectrum?”

The richness of the poetry of prominent poets in music terms is a sign of their interest in music. Molana’s Sama could be taken as the reason for the strong rhythms in his poetry. The same thing could be said of others, like Hafez; even though we do not have historical evidence, the composition of such poetry without using music is unlikely, especially since one meaning of the word “Hafez” is “vocalist;” although that meaning may sound strange to the Iranian listeners’ ears, in Tajikistan, the phrase hafezi kardan is still used in the sense of singing.

Q. You have been involved with Iranian vocal art for years… how popular has it been among people, especially the youth?

Ali: So much as to become epidemic. Among politicians, athletes, actors, physicians, engineers, many aspire to become singers. They turn to vocal art to gain renown, for which they find no stronger tool. That shows the status of vocal art in the society.

Q. Over the past years, musical instruments have been created that look like the old ones. Has the vocal part also improved?

Ali: If you look closely at the acoustics of the newer Iranian musical instruments, you see shortages in the bass areas of Iranian instruments, something vocal music has been suffering from for years.

Q. How much do you believe in innovation in the area of Iranian music, especially vocal art?

Mohammad: Art is condemned to update to survive; however, in doing so, the artist should not entirely sacrifice artistic originality for the audience’s liking. The artist is the voice of the society’s demands. Just as every generation differs in its demands, its needs, aspirations, and preoccupations differ, too. Now, amidst all the commotion to renew, one cannot impose the old on the society on such pretexts as preserving originality. The ancient differs from the old, and the difference is as wide as history [itself]. The artist would be cast away by the audience if he does not accommodate this [need for] renewal in his creation.

This matter can be viewed from the other side of the coin as well, where, unfortunately, on the pretext of being up-to-date, we are witnessing such works that, had they emerged anywhere else in the world, task forces would have been ordered launched comprising experts from fields all the way from psychology to sociology and criminology to investigate how a society would allow and well-receive such works.

Q. One main feature of Iranian music is improvisation. Could you please elaborate on that?

Ali: Improvised singing is based on the singer’s command of literature and is the result of the artist’s wit and creation in the moment. That means that, when the vocal artist is in command of radif and technic and, as the elders would say, has a sleeve-ful of poetry, he would, depending on the moment, create in such a way as to enthrall the audience.

Q. Given that you have performed outside of the country, how far is Iranian vocal art representative of Iranian culture? And could we say that this art is well-known around the world?

Mohammad: Music is the common language of all civilizations. In our performances abroad, we have seen a high level of familiarity with Iranian music, a level that, one could confidently say, is not less than that of the Iranian audience, if not more. The reason for that attention is the awareness of that audience about the culture and arts of the Iranian land. That level of reception toward Iranian music beyond Iran’s borders is a sign of the richness of Iranian music and the thousands of years’ worth of the land’s culture.

Q. You have been active in the field of music for films, as well… how far can Iranian vocal art go to introduce Iranian films in international festivals, or, conversely, how effective can film be in introducing Iranian vocal art?

Ali: In Iranian films, music is used to effect an emotion or excitement in the audience, and the music’s dramatic capability is not drawn on. If the director has knowledge of literature and music, he can use music to serve the story and the film. You can see that India has its own version of cinema. So do China and America. However, music in Iranian cinema is either eclectic or alien.

I can point prominently to Maestro Ali Hatami as an exemplar of maestros who have used Iranian music to serve Iranian cinema, but others are after eclectic music. An Iranian film should first and foremost be Iranian, peculiar to Iranian cinema, which means it should use Iranian literature and music. All of this goes back to the director’s command of Iranian literature, music, and arts.

Since cinema is the strongest artistic medium, and since we are increasingly learning that the future belongs to cinema, music should be able to become a main pillar of the artistic form. Film is taking the most valued time of the humankind, and [thus] music should strive to become a main pillar of this medium.