Walking into my favourite coffeeshop Café Un the other day, I was told – with many apologies – that they were closed. But when I asked if I could stay and listen, three faces opened up into big smiles; I shook a round of hands and sat down to enjoy some lovely music on setar, daf, and tombak. Over the following days, setar-and-barman Sadegh introduced me to a lot of recordings of Persian traditional and fusion music while fixing me many espressos using his own custom blend of coffees, surrounded by coolly glamorous photographs of the likes of Bob Dylan, David Lynch, and Iranian artists whose names I haven’t even begun to manage to memorise yet. Even the ayatollahs look hip in grainy black-and-white.
Kodum guri hasti? Where the hell have you been? Riding around the desert for weeks, with burnt lips and sand up my nose, that’s where I’ve been. Very happy to be in a city again. Busy streets, a different smell on every corner – jasmin, kebabs, sewage, fresh bread, old sweat.
Kodum guri hasti? The expression comes to mind often when trying to navigate the city too. The literal translation is beautiful: which grave are you in? Apparently it’s quite rude. And so is the traffic – while in pedestrian life you may spend ten minutes waiting for each other to pass through a door, once they’re in their cars, Iranians are ruthless. Being in Tehran involves many hours of fighting through and getting lost in a vast network of highways – life doesn’t get much more urban than that. Especially enjoyable when driven around, Kurdish music drowning out the rattle of the airconditioning, by grinning Aylar, throwing the wheel around and dancing on the pedals like a ballerina driving a rollercoaster.
Just like the cafes move comfortably between Tom Waits and Alireza Ghorbani, historical and contemporary culture from all over the world inform cosmopolitan Iranian culture. At least at my, possibly naïve, first sight, there doesn’t seem to be a struggle for domination – whatever is useful, is used. Bad news for authenticist purists as well as for those who think western pop is the answer to everything, good news for all of us who just want to create and enjoy an interesting and interconnected life without worrying too much about the ideology of its backgrounds. And despite obvious problems, cultural life is diverse and thriving in Tehran – cafés, galleries, restaurants, parties. On one of my first days in the city, artist and independent curator Amirali Ghasemi whirlwinded me through a variety of North Tehrani galleries and then got me into an officially sold-out concert of Tehrani folk-fusion heroes Pallett.
Kodum guri hasti? Wherever I was, it wasn’t on a concert stage and I’ve been missing it. I guess it’s what happens when you decide to travel from South Asia to North West Europe on an ancient tractor, these things tend to take time. But I’m happy to have some playing opportunities here again. I had the joy to play a nice concert at Amirali’s Parkingallery last Sunday (videos will be up soon), and am currently preparing two evenings of music at Darbast at the Mohsen Gallery next week, involving the Pallettis and Soheil from the video below, among others. Of the many informal playing sessions at people’s homes, the one at the house of musician & film composer Ali Samadpour and visual artist Negar Farajiani was a particularly enjoyable example – a great night of eating, playing, drinking, talking.
dinner music meeting with ali samadpour & family, amirali ghasemi, soheil peyghambari, martin shamoonpour, aida khorsandi, and robbert van hulzen (4 june)