03 September 2010

Music: Persian music and family

Tablet offered a wonderful story on cousin Galeet Dardashti's new CD, "The Naming," which honors the Bible's unsung women and also calls attention to Persian music.

Tracing the Tribe wrote a previous post here, and included where clips may be accessed.

Alexander Gelfand wrote a fascinating story which, among other issues, addressed Persian cantillation in the classical style, for which Galeet's grandfather Yona was well-known.

There's also family history in there. Her Aunt Tova prayed with tefillin, unusual for a woman in any Jewish community around the world, but especially long ago in Teheran.
“Gender hadn’t really been an issue for me up until that point,” says Dardashti, who leads the all-girl band Divahn and recently completed a PhD in cultural anthropology. “We were three girls in my family, and there was never any question that there was something we couldn’t do. But it suddenly occurred to me that, yes, I am a woman; and my husband and I are going to have really different roles in child rearing.”
In addition to considering the women who had been misrepresented in rabbinical commentary, such as Vashti or Sheba, she was studying the music Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, as well as the very different Persian tradition of her grandfather, often called the "Nightingale."

Galeet's father, Farid Dardashti, once a pop star in Tehran - one of his hits was "Malaguena" - is hazzan at Beth El Synagogue (New Rochelle, New York), introduced her to Persian cantillation, much like the classical music his father sang. Everyone in the family grew up on Yona's singing at gatherings and via the old recordings.

When she began singing this in public, “The reaction I got from older Sephardic and Mizrahi women was, ‘Wow, hearing a woman do this repertoire is really powerful!’ ” she said.

Gelfand, in addition to commenting on various tracks on the CD, also offers information on Persian music, which is different from Arab music that most Westerners know. It is based on a modal system called dastgah, while other Middle Eastern music is based on another system called maqam. And it has influenced Persian Jewish music as well.

Farid is on the "Endora" track chanting from the book of Samuel on “Endora,” which recounts the meeting between King Saul and the witch of Endor.

Galeet also uses Sephardic and Moroccan melodies in addition to the Persian, and they are very different.

It is an acquired taste, and one needs to learn the differences.
Not everybody appreciates these distinctions. At least some of the people who come to hear Dardashti perform this material think it all just sounds vaguely Islamic. “The most common question I get is, ‘What’s Jewish about this music?’ ” she said. “They’ll say, ‘It sounds like a muezzin’s call to prayer!’ ”
Gelfand writes that Galeet intended for the CD to focus on some of the slighted biblical female figures, but that she has also succeeded in calling attention to a vast body of music that has for many years been ignored by Ashkenazim.

Read the complete story at the link above.

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