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Fared Shafinury & Tehranosaurus


20 Nov 2009 22:5611 Comments

[ 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

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The author is mistaken. Fared Shafinury is seen playing the setar, not the sitar. There's a difference between the two.

Shafinury's band seems to utilize Western scale, giving it a more restricted, non-Middle Eastern sound.

I must confess I don't much care for the Western rock-type riffs performed on the setar. I really don't see the point beyond novelty.

Pirouz / November 21, 2009 2:59 AM

I don't think Tehranosaurus is trying to play into the cliche world music scene, which is probably why you don't here the very generic "Middle Eastern" sound. In other words, they are not trying to make 'exotic' music for the Western ears. After all, Shafinury is an Iranian-American who was born in Texas.

After watching them perform for the first time at the Palace of Fine Arts, I felt they really created their own unique sound. There is utilization of Western constructs/motifs, but the setar seems to effortlessly weave in and out of specific Iranian microtonal scales into their melodies. Also, their use of interesting Persian rhythms is anything but novel.

I am an Iranian-American myself who plays the electric guitar. I can't play microtones on my instrument, which is confining. After watching this kid play the setar the way he does, I am inspired to play the setar and learn Persian scales.

btw: the sitar is an Indian instrument, which actually originates from the Persian setar. Setar means "3 strings" while Sitar means "30 strings".

Ardavan / November 23, 2009 3:06 AM

Love that song. It even sounds great on an iPhone.

Anonymous / November 23, 2009 4:43 AM

I really like the texture and tonal dynamics bass/guitar player Ledesma adds to the band. Great to hear something new coming out of austin versus that same old same old western-centric establishment, "I live off my parents" pop music typical of that city. Good to hear a working class, blue collar, who started from humble & modest beginning like Fared did can make his footprint in the music scene. Keep up the good work for all of us poor iranians keeping up the good fight!

Mariam_Shah / November 27, 2009 9:14 AM

dametoon garm karetoono kheili doost daram.

Morteza Mostaghasi / November 28, 2009 6:23 AM

Fared has some amazing energy and passion (besides musical skills) and I'm glad to see that accompanied by a group.

I'm not Iranian American and don't know traditional Iranian music, but I am Chicano and know traditional music from Mexico. And know what its like growing up with ideas, customs, and roots that are often in conflict. It is always inspiring to see young people creating music that expresses the borderlands we carry in our hearts and minds.

I wish Tehranosaurus the best.

JMT / December 3, 2009 3:33 AM

Hey Fared!!!!
This is a beautiful song man. I don´t even have to understand the lyrics to have a deep feeling of the music.
Even though we hanged out like 1 and a half times I really enjoyed your company and energy. You´re the man. let´s please stay in touch so we can later on hang out again. Maybe you wanna come to colombia?? you know you have a home here man. Anyways, keep it up!! cheers!!

Pablo Escalante / December 4, 2009 9:32 AM

I was very moved by this group's performance in San Francisco in September of 2009. It was a very vibrant performance, a spiritual hour of music and yet very youthful experience with rhythms. What a wonderful artistry of lyrics and music; each of the musicians is a masterful player of his instrument, yet the group is one soul.

Simin Hall / December 31, 2009 10:13 PM

The second part sounds good.

There doesn't have to be a 'point' to music.

Wish it was subtitled.

Fari / February 21, 2010 3:30 PM

farid is amazing. because of him, i sing to my children "bani adam" to make them sleep.

maryam aryai rivera / March 22, 2010 11:26 PM

Fared's music has giving me a slight insight into Iranian culture which I could not have found otherwise living in central Texas. I find it beautiful and inspiring and am grateful that such artist are available for me to hear. I am very interested in the culture and politics of Iran.
You go Fared!

Jessica Loredo / November 5, 2010 11:23 PM