Arts / Music that dares to give the girls a voice

Zahra Ranjpoor who plays hand drum (daf).

“THE female voice is 59 per cent of Persian music,” says musician Salar Ayoubi.

He’s about to try and prove it with a concert at The Playhouse that contests the idea that female musos should stay out of the limelight.

That’s quite a challenge. Women may have dominated Persian music from ancient times and in the time of the shah they could sing and dance traditional, pop and cabaret music, but in post-revolutionary Iran every piece of music requires a determination of whether a piece of music is “halal” or “haram” – allowed or forbidden. And dancing for men by women is completely forbidden.

“We’re having a focus on female musicians,” Ayoubi says of his band, the Sarv Ensemble.

“Women performers have missed a generation of performance opportunities.”

He says that since the revolution fatwas have prevented women from performing in public, although occasionally female instrumentalists may be found in ensembles.

“Women are being trained in universities and conservatoria, but are not allowed to perform solo in public… it’s not the same in other Islamic countries like Iraq or Turkey – there women take centre stage,” he says.

“Three girls and three boys, it’s equitable”, Ayoubi says, as he describes how Zahra Ranjpoor on hand drum (daf), vocalist Maliheh Moradi and Vahideh Esaee on zither (qanun), will be matched by male players Shahu Andalibi on flute (nay) and Mehrdad Nasehi on the fiddle (kamancheh) and Ayoubi himself on the oud (Middle-Eastern lute) to make up the ensemble.

Ranjpoor plays the large Middle-Eastern frame drum, so heavy that it requires enormous power. Like the maestro, on whose YouTube videos she appears, she has been banned from playing in Iran.

Singer Moradi, who is credited with knowing the “radif” Persian scale system in and out, has been trained since aged 10 and studied under legendary musician Mohammad Reza Shajarian.

Esaee, who plays the age-old “khanoun”, is the daughter of a famous Iranian children’s writer, Afsaneh Shabanzhad. She now lives in Perth with her husband and is one of the main figures in Sarv, shaping and putting events together.

“Girls” and “boys” alike will perform under the direction of celebrity musician Majid Derakhshani, who has recorded more than 150 albums in the past 20 years.

Vahideh Esaee plays the qanun (a zither).

Derakhshani was famously banned from leaving his home country for two years after performing with gorgeously costumed female musicians and posting the performances on YouTube, to be viewed by millions of people around the world. Not even the clerics could contend with that.

It’s quite a coup to have secured a musician who has given such street cred and respectability to female musicians in what Ayoubi calls “an equal platform”.

As well as proclaiming the virtues of girl power on the concert platform, the Sarv Ensemble suspects people are being driven away from the arts by the high cost of tickets and hopes to entice the general public with a family-priced concert of accessible Persian music.

With the theme of musical girl power in play, Sarv is embarking on tours to Melbourne, Wollongong, Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide, where it has already sold out.

The Sarv Ensemble, at The Playhouse, Saturday, August 12. Bookings to or 6275 2700.

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