Giving Voice to 'Silent City': Kayhan Kalhor Bridges Tehran and Brooklyn
There are several intriguing angles one could take regarding 'Silent City,' a new album combining the talents of Iranian kamancheh (spike fiddle) virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor with the adventurous American string quartet Brooklyn Rider. An outgrowth of the musicians' experience as part of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble recordings and tours, this album comes at a time of ever-increasing tensions and rhetoric between the two countries' governments, a time when suspicion seems to trump reason and a time when more and more artists are seen as ambassadors of their cultures. And the title piece is emotionally stunning, a 29-minute musical Guernica, a threnody for the Kurdish village Hallabja that suffered the 1988 chemical weapons attack by Iraq that left 5,000 dead.
But don't overlook one striking thing about the contents of this album, particularly that title composition: This is simply utterly remarkable music.
This is not a case of Persian styles adorned with Western strings, or conversely a string quartet with Iranian music on top of it. Much like compositions of fellow Tehran native Hafez Nazeri discussed in an earlier Around the World column, this is a true fusion. And it's not just a melding of of cultures and genres but of the musical minds of the people making it -- which is exactly what Kalhor intended when he conceived the piece.
"I think the best part of any musical encounter is the thinking stage," he says. "Let me give an example: You listen to a great African musician. You enjoy the music and suddenly you think of what you can do with him or her in a musical collaboration. This happens to me a lot. I hear a great piece of music somewhere and would love to picture myself in it! What can I add to it to make it different if I was given the opportunity? Not that