Fared Shafinury & Tehranosaurus
by SAYA OVAISY
20 Nov 2009 22:56
[ spotlight ] Much of the 'fusion music' pumped out by a new generation of bands in Iran -- Ohum, 127, and early Kiosk -- transitions from East to West, writing Farsi lyrics onto non-Iranian genres like rock, jazz, and country. While the results can be novel and crowd-pleasing, the mix often feels more like an overlay of disparate elements than a seamless, authentic form of art.
This is what makes the sound of American-Iranian musician Fared Shafinury and his Austin-based band, Tehranosaurus, stand out from his contemporaries. Born in a small town along the Gulf of Mexico, and classically trained on the cello, Shafinury later unearthed a deep-rooted love for the music of his parents' homeland -- the traditional vocal repertoire known as the radiff. His compositions thus move against the current, by retracing the arc from West to East. In his hands, the setar, an Eastern cousin of the guitar, and Fared's virtuoso specialty, yearns not for a departure from Iranian form nor the emulation of Western genres, but arrival at the point where binaries and boundaries bleed and blend until they dissolve completely.
The 'split identity' the 27-year-old musician says he's always felt in relation to his dual-nationality is most clearly reflected in his extended solos on the setar, which shift between powerfully discordant and well-harmonized motifs.
Themes of transcendence, mutation and mutiny, and internal revolt, Shafinury says, are central to his compositions.
After years of shuttling to Iran during summers to study under masters such as Masoud Shaari and later on with Ostad Mohammad-Reza Lotfi, a former head of Tehran University's College of Music, Fared felt driven to immerse himself in the source that informed his music, and moved to Tehran in 2006.
"I wanted to gain a truer and deeper understanding of the radiff and of Persian literature and culture, and how they connect," he recalls. He likens his time in the Iranian capital to living in a monastery. "It was as if nothing existed but me and my instrument, removed from the noise and craziness of Tehran. Music was my oasis, my sanctuary."
Fared finished writing songs for his debut album and recorded them at Ava Darya studio in central Tehran. He also attempted a series of public performances at an open-air amphitheater in Jamshidieh Park in the city's northern foothills, but the impromptu jam sessions ended after a brush with the law, since he didn't have a permit from Ershad, the Cultural Ministry.
Wary of getting embroiled in Ershad's tortuous bureaucracy, Fared returned to Texas in 2008. He formed Tehranosaurus with five fellow Austin musicians: Jason Mackenzie on tabla, Chris Ledesma on bass and guitar, Emon Hall (half Iranian) on violin, Joey Santori on cello, and drummer Andy Beaudoin. The lineup adds a modern dimension to the Persian classical music, coloring the traditional arrangements with a rock urgency.
Asked where the "Persian indie rock" band gets its name, Fared says, "It can mean what you want it to mean. It can be a metaphor for Tehran as a colossal metropolis. Or a huge creature that the masses come together to make... We wanted a fun name that everyone could spin their own way."
How do the American members of the band feel about playing classical Persian-Western rock fusion? "I think of Tehranosaurus as a band that could only form in America's multicultural society. Despite our different backgrounds, we all speak the same language of music," says Beaudoin.
"It was never a conscious attempt to get into Persian classical music that drew me to it, but Fared's talent and passion for it, and the way he nonchalantly made it seem like the most normal type of music around that made it so easy to become a part of it," adds Ledesma.
Most songs adapt verses from Persian poetry: lyrics to Bani Adam ('Children of Adam'), Barafshan ('Go Wild'), and Posht-e Darya-ha ('Behind the Seas') are inspired by medieval poets Sa'adi and Hafez and modernist Sohrab Sepehri respectively. Others feature original lyrics, such as the EP track "Arianaz" (featured video).
Fared played a rendition of the well-loved resistance anthem Yare Dabestani ("My Grade-School Friend") to an audience of Iranian diaspora at a protest rally in New York this past summer, and Tehranosaurus recently performed on stage at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. The band's full-length album "Behind the Seas" is due to be released by the end of the year.
Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau