Mohsen Sharifian: Taking traditional music from Iran to new collaborative heights

Mohsen Sharifian
Mohsen Sharifian
Mohsen Sharifian is a musician and composer from Iran, and heads the troupe Lian Band. He has spent the last two decades immersing himself in the musical traditions of the Bushehr region, writing several books and collecting songs and dance-tunes and composing new works inspired by them. He is a virtuoso performer on the two ancient, emblematic instruments of the Persian Gulf region, the Nay-Anban (bagpipe) and the Nay-Jofti (double-pipe reed flute). The Lian Band, formed in 1993, has released nine albums and performed around the world. Mohsen joins us in this exclusive interview on the highlights and challenges of his musical journey.

Mohsen and his band will be playing on the final day of the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Malaysia.

Q: How was your band formed?

My goal is to preserve and promote the folklore music of my region inside and outside of Iran. The band’s name is Lian and this is the ancient name of my city Boushehr. This name is about 3,000 years old and the meaning is ‘shining sun.’ The history of ancient Boushehr and its culture are deep and continuous sources of learning for us.

Q: Who would you say are the leading influences in your music, in terms of culture and family?

Music is in our family but remember however they were not willing for me to play music, because of the humiliating views by many in our society to folk musicians. But now I am happy, it’s honourable for the family, and they have never forbidden me.

Music across the world has been a part of society, and you can easily see the footprint of Indian music and songs, which I have seen in my trips to India and among the Indian workers in Boushehr. It’s amazing to see that the name of one of Boushehr’s parishes is Kuti; this is an Indian name meaning mansion. The spices in our food and the hotness in them is also because of Indians!

Q: Tell us about the more unusual instruments you have in your ensemble.

Mohsen Sharifian
Mohsen Sharifian
The bagpipe by the native name Ney-Anban is a special one, which has the identity of boushehri music. But we can see it all over the world. Even in India, but the bagpipes have their own accent.

This instrument is very unique and one of the aspects that makes it special is that the playing of this instrument at Bushehr is facing opposition, and this is unnecessarily radical and goes under a supposed religious facade.

Q: What is the profile of some of the artists in your band?

This band has working for about 20 years, and our relations began with activities during our student years, which eventually became a solid band going by the name of Lian.

Q: How would you describe your musical journey and its messages?

I believe that our work shows our birthplace of music and highlights our role as representatives for our music. The message that I want the world to hear is joy and peace, I’m glad that I did it with art and out of politics. Our albums like other artists of the world will change over the years, and sometimes may have effects on the world!

In my new album (to be released by Taraneh Sharghi), I have performed fusion music and tried a music speech to tell that our people were shaped by interaction and dialogue. So I composed a mixture of boushehri music with flamenco, Indian and modern music. It’s good to know I used an Indian musician by the name of Darchen Anand. He played tabla and sings a song with me. I would really love Indians to hear this album and explore opportunities to collaborate!

Q: How would you describe your composition process?

The Lian Band
The Lian Band
Most of the songs are composed by me; however I also get comments from musician of the band and audience reactions. Our folk music itself is composed from the combination of different music, including African, India and Arab. So essentially I believe in the combination forces of music, and over the years music of the world has intentionally or unintentionally absorbed other influences. How and to what extent it can be incorporated to introduce original music deserves reflection.

Q: Do you also teach workshops for students and musicians?

I always do it as workshops, and I would say one of the most important of them is the workshop of Tchaikovsky Music University in Moscow Russia.

Q: What can we expect to hear at your upcoming performance?

Instruments and components with emphasis on the introduction of our dance are highlights of all our performances. I have material to choose from my many albums. I always try to have a surprise for my audience, so don’t worry about this!

Author: Madanmohan Rao

Madanmohan Rao is an author and media consultant from Bangalore, and global correspondent for world music and jazz for World Music Central and Jazzuality. He has written over 15 books on media, management and culture, and is research director for YourStory Media. Madan was formerly World Music Editor at Rave magazine and RJ at WorldSpace, and can be followed on Twitter at @MadanRao.


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