Tahere Falahati builds on rich Persian classical tradition

Vocalist performing with ensemble at Kay Meek Centre Jan. 25

Tahere Falahati with ensemble perform Dami Ba Doost (A Moment With You) at Kay Meek Centre, Saturday, Jan. 25, 8 p.m. For more information visit kaymeekcentre.com/on_stage/1826.

A throaty female singing voice cracks and quavers as it resonates from the built-in laptop speakers.

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"This is tahrir," says Tahere Falahati as she reaches out to pause the iTunes track. The distinct vocal trill, heard often in traditional Persian songs, she explains, is produced by vibrating the larynx.

"It is a vocal ornamentation, like Swiss yodelling."

Falahati skips ahead in the song. Now the voice is smooth and clear. The singer holds an impossibly long note which starts soft and builds in volume.

"This is the dynamics of the voice. You make, like, a crescendo from a lower tone to a higher tone."

Falahati continues to describe the complexities and subtleties of Persian classical music. The genre, she explains, relies on a fixed repertoire of short melodic movements, called gushe, and often draws its lyrics from renowned medieval poets such Rumi, Hafez or Sa'adi.

"There's an organic relationship between poetry and music and this is the vocalist's responsibility to recite those poems," says Falahati.

The North Vancouver singer has studied the traditional music of her home country for many years and released her first album in August. A Moment WithYou was composed and conducted by kamancheh player Saeed Farajpoory and features an ensemble of Lower Mainland instrumentalists including Ali Razmi (setar), Ali Sajadi (barbat), Saina Khaledi (santour) and Hamin Honari (tombak, daf).

Classical Persian musicians rely on improvisation and composition when pairing melodic sequences with poetic lyrics, Falahati says.

"And then you bring them out, with your fashion, with your style and put your character in it."

On A Moment With You, all nine tracks are sung in Farsi. But Falahati insists listeners needn't understand the language to appreciate the music.

"You don't need to know the lyrics because it's the ability of the vocalist to bring up his or her emotion in their voice," she says.

"When I listen to non-Farsi music, sometimes I don't know the lyrics, but I use my imagination and I can make a connection between myself and the vocalist."

Falahati moved to Canada from Tehran, Iran in 2001 seeking greater artistic opportunities. Dance and certain types of music have been banned in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and there are restrictions on female singers.

"Female vocalists are not permitted to have any activities in my home country. We can sing in a choir and accompanying other male singers in groups, but the lone female voice is too provocative for men," Falahati says, adding, "I think that the female voice in my home country needs to be hidden, just like their head, from men because it's too much of a turn on."

At the time of the revolution, Falahati was just five years old. She discovered her voice at an early age, but there was never any opportunity for her to perform - at least, not the way she wanted to perform, as a soloist.

"In a choir, you can't hear their voices, how fantastic they are or what they can do with their voices," she says. "Give me some credit, you know. I don't want to do that."

Still, she continued to study voice privately under the tutorship of well-known Iranian singer Parissa. At her father's urging, she also got a bachelor's degree in chemistry and worked in the sciences for a short time.

"I didn't like it," she admits. "I wanted to be a musician."

In addition to recording A Moment With You, Falahati and her ensemble have taken the groundbreaking step of releasing two music videos, available on YouTube. Falahati believes these to be the first ever music videos created to accompany traditional Persian songs with a female vocalist. While there is plenty of footage of classical musicians performing live, Falahati says this is one of the first times to her knowledge that a traditional Persian ensemble has hired a videographer to film and edit a professional video. Since she enjoys watching the music videos of her own favourite artists, she figured those who listen to A Moment With You might appreciate a visual companion.

"You can make a better connection between you and the listener," she says.

Looking ahead, Falahati is eager to set up more local performances. There are plenty of talented Iranian musicians in the Vancouver area, she says, and with a bit more promotion and support she hopes to grow a wider local fan base for traditional Persian music.

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