Words by Simon Broughton
I first heard Iranian sisters Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat in Istanbul in 2006. The power in their voices, so perfectly matched and intertwining around each other was a revelation. We were all there for a Freemuse meeting about music censorship. Sadly, solo (or duo) women singers are not permitted to perform in Iran except for all-female audiences.
The Vahdat sisters have released several albums on the Norwegian KKV label, most of them fusion projects, and have contributed a track to KKV’s Lullabies from the Axis of Evil album in 2004. But this is the first recording where the power and beauty of their voices really comes across. It was recorded with three instrumentalists on ney flute (Pasha Hanjani), plucked setar (Atabak Elyasi) and percussion (Ali Rahimi) in an Qajar period Persian mansion in Tehran belonging to the Italian embassy. It’s a beautiful location for a traditional ensemble.
Some of the words are by the great Persian poets Hafez and Rumi, others are contemporary, but the music is timeless. The breathiness of the ney, the tingling delicacy of the setar, the punctuation of drums and the overlapping voices in ‘Garden of Visions’ are magical. A soft ney introduction leads to the drama of ‘Crane’, a powerful song yearning for freedom. The words are intensely poetic and often hard to interpret (despite translations), but the effect of the songs is transformative.