Sounds of Persia

Dastan Ensemble to perform at Duke
Oct. 27, 2013 @ 07:00 PM

The sounds of percussion, and string instruments like the barbat, tar, setar and kamanche will ring from Duke’s Bryan Center Saturday when the Dastan Ensemble and vocalist Lady Parissa perform music in the Persian tradition.

Fatemeh Vaezi, known by her stage name Lady Parissa, is a vocalist known internationally for her interpretations and performances of Persian classical music. She will be the featured performer, along with Dastan Ensemble, which formed in 1991 to perform traditional Persian music.

The Bryan Center audience will be listening to modern, composed music based on the ancient Persian traditions, Hossein Behroozinia said in a phone interview. Behroozinia joined Dastan (which means “song” or “melody”) in 1992, and is a composer who plays the barbat, a lute-like instrument.

This concert is sponsored in part by the Persian Art Center in Carolina, the Persian Students Association at Duke and the Iranian Cultural Society of N.C., to promote understanding between the United States and Iran.

Other members of the Dastan Ensemble are Hamid Motebassem, tar and setar; Pejman Hadadi, percussion; Saeed Farajpouri, kamanche; and Behnam Samani, percussion.

The concert will come with some program notes discussing the music and the history of the instruments, Behroozinia said. Briefly, the tar has six strings, is made of mulberry wood and has a double bowl where the sound resonates. The modern setar has four strings, and often accompanies the ceremonies of Sufi mystics. The kamanche has four strings, and is played with a bow, in vertical position like a cello.

Percussion instruments include the tombak, a chalice-shaped drum; the daf, which resembles a tambourine; and the dammam, a drum with goatskin, secured by a cord.

The combination of these instruments, along with solo or choral vocals, gives this music a rhythmic, at times comforting, even ethereal quality.

Barbat is the forerunner of the Arabic oud, which Behroozinia first learned to play at the Tehran Conservatory of Music. As part of his studies, he had to choose a second instrument, and began learning to play the oud. Soon, the oud became his primary instrument, and he became interested in its relationship to the barbat.

The barbat is considered one of the most ancient of instruments. “This instrument was forgotten in Persian music,” Behroozinia said. Arabic musicians adapted the barbat into the oud, giving the instrument a shorter finger board and a larger sound bowl, he said. Less than 100 years ago, “we started to return this instrument back to Iran by learning to play it from Arab musicians,” Behroozinia said.

He was given his first barbat as a gift about 20 years ago when he visited a master instrument maker who made a traditional barbat. He began transferring his knowledge of the oud to the barbat, playing traditional Persian music. The barbat is held like a guitar, and played with a pick.     

Last year, Dastan toured the West Coast and Canada. Saturday’s concert is part of a six-concert tour of the East Coast that includes a date at Carnegie Hall, Behroozinia said. Dastan’s extensive discography includes the albums “Rose of Paradise,” “In the Name of the Red Rose” and “A Call Beneath the Ashes.”

Behroozinia said he listens to all forms to music, which he believes has the power to speak beyond language and other barriers. Listeners who do not understand the language in the traditional tunes can still “feel the melodies; they can feel what we are saying,” he said. Audiences hearing this music for the first time have been receptive to it, he said. Some said, “it was beyond our expectation … I hope we can do it this time for our audience in U.S. cities.”