classical music / Events / iran / Music

Spiritual Strings – The Roohafza Ensemble

Six Pillars – How did you group form and what is the thing that brings you all together to play?

Shahab Hamidi Manesh – Roohafza Tanbour Ensemble (The Tanbour Players of Esfahan) was founded in 1998 in Esfahan-Iran by director and composer Aliasghar Rahimi, a master tanbour player. The tanbour is an ancient Persian-Kurdish instrument which is not popular in most areas of Iran and was even unknown in Esfahan. Tanbour is mostly prominent in Kurdish areas in west of Iran (mainly Kermanshahan). An interesting point about the Roohafza Ensemble is that while most of our musicians are from Esfahan, all play tanbour, even our percussionist and all were tutored in the tanbour by Mr Rahimi himself. Naturally then our taste in music, composition and feelings are very close and complimentary. “Roohafza” translates as such: rooh means ‘spirit’, afza ‘enhancer’.

SP – How important is faith to your group and it’s music?

SHM – Of course the beliefs of an artist always inform the infrastructure of thoughts. We are very close to each other in our beliefs; for example we all sincerely respect Rumi’s thoughts; but it doesn’t mean we create our music according to a special faith or to promote any -ism. I should mention that tanbour itself is very respected in some Kurdish faiths like “Ahl-e hagh” (a religion founded by Sultan Sahak in the late 14th century in western Iran), and it is a religious matter for them to play and pray with the tanbour. Nonetheless we all are Muslim but as I said, we don’t promote or follow any special faith with our music.

SP – What do you personally feel about music that is said to have ‘no soul’, and instead celebrates the darker side of human character?

SHM – I can answer this question in this way: some music causes the mind and heart to fly, to think, to imagine a heaven; these types of music will involve your mind and feelings, even for a long time after listening to them, sometimes for even perhaps all of your life you remember a piece of music and it still has an effect on you. On the other hand, some music brings the listener further and further down, in other words into darkness; the music ends when listening ends; these types of music have a very short, weak and possibly negative effect. I prefer not to call these music but will call them distracted sounds. Music is a very respected name to give something, music is from the divine. Rumi mentions this his poems:

We all were components of Adam and have heard these tones in heaven, the sound of the tanbour and a few other instruments are a little like those very tones.

ما همه اجزای آدم بوده ایم در بهشت این لحن ها بشنوده ایم ناله تنبور و بعضی سازها اندکی ماند بدان آوازها

SP -What makes Iranian music distinct from other Middle Eastern music?

SHM – According to historical documents, Persian music and its instruments fathered most of world music. For example Zaryab who created the first guitar, or the barbad etc. Also tanbour was the first Persian stringed instrument it is about seven thousand years old. In this way Persian music remains very pure and original, and maintains its own character. Generally, in each culture elements like music are similar to the character and personality of the people of that culture. Persian music, I would say, is more emotional, relaxing and peaceful in comparison with some other music styles.
In Roohafza, the tanbour, ney and daf are the main instruments. Each of them is one of the oldest or the first instrument in its own category (string, flute and drum).

SP – What can people expect on Sunday?

SHM – People can expect a kind of music that they don’t hear a great deal of. Ours is a distinct sort of mystical and emotional music, performed with the Persian poems of Rumi, which brings all of us to heaven for a while, inshallah. We won’t have a normal kind music concert on Sunday; is will be more of a ‘spiritual party’. We ourselves will go there to have a night of sublime ecstasy and enjoy the drunkenness of this heavenly wine, that is music, together with other people. It will be a night of ‘unity’.

هر نفس آواز عشق میرسد از چپ و راست ما به فلک میرویم عزم تماشا که راست

Every breath, every moment, the sign of Love is coming from every side.
We are ascending to the sky, who could not be determined enough to watch?


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