Songlines | Kayhan Kalhor

Kayhan Kalhor Profile

(Photo: HR Shirmohammadi)

  • Born: 1963
  • Related Artists: Bijan Chemirani
  • Related Countries: Iran
  • Related Genres: Middle Eastern classical

The Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor is a master of classical Kurdish music as well as a brilliant collaborator, having recorded countless albums with musicians from from India, Turkey, Mali and beyond


Kayhan Kalhor plays his kamancheh kneeling down in the traditional position because it enhances his concentration. ‘It’s like riding a wild horse. You can’t let your mind wander even for a second,’ he explains. Born in 1963 into a Kurdish family he grew up in Tehran and first studied the violin, before taking up the kamancheh, sometimes referred to as a ’spike fiddle’ and an ancestor of the Western violin with its roots deep in traditional Persian culture a penetrating, sinewy tone. By the age of 15, he was practising up to 18 hours a day.  

He studied in both Italy and Canada and his debut album Scattering Stars Like Dust was released in 1998. By happy coincidence, it was reviewed in the very first issue of Songlines, which hailed a magnificent new player of an instrument little known in the West and called the record ‘a mesmerising feat of colours and timbres.’

Dividing his time between North America and Iran, since then Kalhor has made a succession of brilliant collaborative albums. He was a founder member of the Dastan Ensemble, one of Iran’s finest classical troupes, and of the Masters of Persian Music collective, featured on several recordings for Harmonia Mundi.

He has accompanied many of Iran’s best-loved vocalists, played on half a dozen albums with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, composed for the Kronos Quartet and collaborated across borders and cultural divides with a rich array of musicians from India, Turkey, Mali and beyond, always placing musical compatibility above commercial success.

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