Tonight at UCSB MultiCultural Center, the Los Angeles-based Lian Ensemble will bring its program of traditional Persian music mixed with contemporary concepts.
The Lian Ensemble
When: 8 p.m., tonight
Where: UCSB MultiCultural Center
Tickets are $15, general admission, $5 for UCSB students and children under 12
For many years, if only for a handful of concerts each academic year, UCSB’s MultiCultural Center has been a major boon to Santa Barbara’s link to the so-called “world music” scenes. Sometimes, those links to cultural sources from afar are filtered through projects based in the melting-pot state of California, such as the direct Vietnamese musical lineage of the now Bay Area-based (and occasional Kronos Quartet collaborator) Vân Ánh Vo back, appearing at MCC in 2015.
Tonight, the far/near filtering process involves a deep Persian musical tradition as channeled and personally re-processed by a respected group from Los Angeles, the Lian Ensemble. Formed in 1996 by Iranian-born musicians Pirayeh Pourafar, on the tar, and percussionist Houman Pourmehdi, the ensemble now boasts nearly a dozen recordings and performs in various settings and cities.
In the MCC theater tonight, the Ensemble brings along a program called “Noor, the Path of Light” (“noor” translates to “light”). They have explained that the concert “will explore modern connections between two art forms with ancient ties through a powerful crossover between Persian music and a variety of genres, including Tuvan, Indian, Jazz, Flamenco and Celtic music.” Persian purists, beware, but also rejoice.
Over its 20-plus years in action, with shifting personnel, the Ensemble has garnered critical accolades for its committed yet also flexible mission: to celebrate and disseminate the ancient Persian and Iranian music, while also incorporating elements of contemporary jazz and music from other global points into the group’s mix.
A beguiling 2006 album, “Pangea,” brought together Lian Ensemble with Armenian musical mesmerizer Djavan Gasparian on the duduk, with the Indian tabla mastery of Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, and guitar by Miroslav Tadic. Mr. Tadic is part of the group’s link with faculty and “world music” energies centered at Cal Arts, a hub for the culling of musical tributaries around the globe—both pure and hybridized.
Co-founder Ms. Pourafar gave some background on the Ensemble in a recent interview. Although members of the group have appeared in Santa Barbara, this will be the group’s official local debut.
News-Press: Can you give me a bit of background on how the Ensemble began, how it evolved, and what its musical mission has been?
Pirayeh Pourafar: Houman Pourmehdi and I formed the ensemble in 1996, we have collaborated with many musicians–Djivan Gasparian, Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, Khalid Jobran, John Bergimo, Leo Smith and Sima Bina, to name a few. Our musical mission is to introduce Persian classical music to as wide of an audience as possible, both here in the United States as well as internationally.
In addition, our mission is to explore the intersection of music across genres and boundaries, hence our collaboration with many musicians from various disciplines.
NP: It seems fitting that you are performing at the MultiCultural Center, in that this project in particular crosses between Persian and Indian influences, along with other musical influences you bring to the mix. Does that idea of multiculturism relate to the nature of this program you’re bringing, “Noor: the Path of Light?”
PP: For this specific project, per request of UCSB, we are presenting a traditional Persian classical music concert. We will be exploring compositions from the the Qajar dynasty, approximately 150 years in vintage. In addition, we will present original compositions authored by members of the Lian Ensemble.
Throughout the years we have collaborated with and integrated with many types and styles of music, such as Indian classical, European classic, Tuvan traditional, Flamenco, Celtic, Balkan, Sephardic and more.
NP: Los Angeles has a strong Persian community and population. Is that a supportive community base out of which the Lian Ensemble can operate and thrive?
PP: True, Los Angeles is a mecca for the Persian diaspora and they have offered us support throughout the years. That being said, we strive to bring our music to diverse audiences from all backgrounds.
NP: The west—including Santa Barbara—has had at least some regular exposure to Iranian music, as such or as part of a group such as the Silk Road Ensemble, with musicians such as kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor. Is the Lian Ensemble linked with the goal of making great, ancient music of Persian descent more widely appreciated around the world?
PP: Musicians are ambassadors of peace and their respective cultures. Our intent is to bring the essence of our culture to everyone. Hopefully through this endeavor we can bring humans closer together with love and understanding.
NP: Do you feel that the Lian Ensemble and groups like it have an added cultural importance and ambassadorial purpose in this strange—and strained—social and political atmosphere, when our own “leader” has fanned the flames of Islamophobia?
PP: The political climate is always changing, here in the United States, in Iran, all over the world. Music and art are timeless and supersedes politics. If we can touch someone’s heart, kindle the mystical, the spiritual, then we consider it a blessing.