Interview: Kamran Hooshmand devoting his life to various styles of Middle Eastern music

Interview by DooBeeDooBeeDoo NY editorial staff

DooBeeDoo (DBD): Salam Kamran!

Thanks for making time to do this interview with DooBeeDoo. We’re looking forward to seeing your show this Sunday at CA Music Room in New York.
You have great guests in your ensemble and also a strong band, SoSaLa, opening up for you.
Two different bands with two different sound and messages will be performing but both leaders have their roots in Iran. Is this the first time for you to play here?


(Photo courtesy of Kamran Hooshmand)

Kamran Hooshmand (KH): Thank you! Yes. First time in the NY area and I am very excited!

DBD: What kind of music are you going to perform?

KH: I have devoted about 30 years to the study of various traditions mainly Middle Eastern. My primary instrument is the oud (Persian barbat). I gravitated to this instrument because it being a fretless instrument it would allow me to adapt various musical scales which incorporate micro-tones from different traditions. In this concert, I’ll be playing a selection of pieces ranging from early music, Medieval Arab-Andalusian, Ottoman and Persian pieces to Sephardic and Balkan. Additionally and to add a bit of diversity, I will also play some songs that are based on the poetry of contemporary poets of Iran to which I wrote music to. These are played on the guitar accompanying my vocals. So, we are going back and forth between old love songs and contemporary ones.

DBD: Could you tell us a little about your guest musicians?

KH: Sure. I am very lucky and honored to have joining me three fantastic musicians with whom I have worked before in Austin, Texas. Dr. Galeet Dardashti who is the granddaughter of the late well known master vocalist of Persian traditional music Ostad Younes Dardashti and who specializes in Mizrahi music is a great vocalist. I’ll accompany her on the oud on some songs. Jeff Kahan is a master oboe player with whom I worked with doing a soundtrack to the silent film the Thief of Bagdad (1924), a very successful project I did with my Middle Eastern ensemble the 1001 Nights Orchestra in Austin in late 1990s. Another musician who was also part of that project is Alby Roblejo, a great percussionist who specializes in frame drums and who will join me as well. It was partly due to pure coincidence that these friends could all be collaborating with me in NYC, so, I am thrilled!

DBD: Let’s talk a little about your music career and music projects in Austin.

KH: I am currently involved with three different musical projects. with 1001 Nights Nights Orchestra we do folk, traditional and pop interpretations from most of the countries in the Middle East region the Balkans and Southwest Asia. We just released a live recording of a show that accompanied folk dancers in Austin.

With Ojalá, along with me my music partner Javer Palacios who is from Mexico have created bilingual songs that whether were influenced by Spanish Moorish music or vice versa Mexican songs that travelled to Iran and the Middle East. We have one release with this band.

Additionally, I am a frequent guest with Texas Early Music Project under the direction of Danniel Johnson. I bring in the Middle Eastern influence in the Medieval, Sephardic and early music of Southern Europe and North Africa with my oud and my santur (a Persian hammered dulcimer).

DBD: Besides being a musician you’re also a ethno musicologist and scholar.
Were you first a musician and became later a scholar?

KH: I consider myself a musician first and foremost. I am a “scholar” in the sense that is applied to my academic life. I have a background in anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies with significant work in ethnomusicology and am now pursuing my doctorate degree. I have written on subjects related to music and media. I guess I’d be considered an amateur ethnomusicologist in the sense that I research and try to find the roots of the music I perform, but I am not a professional musicologist.

(Image taken from Wikipedia)

(Image taken from Wikipedia)

DBD: Can you tell us a little more about your love of the barbat?

KH: The barbat is an earlier version of the oud, which is a lute common throughout the Middle East. The barbat is considered to be a predecessor to the oud and used to be played in Iran often in the pre-Islamic period. After this period, it was adopted by Arab musicians and named the oud (literally “wood”). It is also a primary instrument in Turkey, Greece, Armenia and many other countries. I started learning the oud on my own by listening to masters such as Simon Shaheen, Marcel Khalefe and Abdolvahab Shahidi in the 80s.

Then I attended the UT Middle Eastern ensemble directed by Prof. Anne Rasmussen in the 90s and learned the Arabic system there. Then, in the mid 2000s I joined another version of the UTMEE this time directed by Prof. Sonia Seeman and learned some of the Turkish and Ottoman systems. I also learned and played the oud in the Persian traditional system in the 90s with Dr. Mojtaba Khoshzamir in Houston, Texas. Recently, I visited Ostad Hossain Behroozinia, the master of the barbat and took some lessons with him in Vancouver. That inspired me to buy my own barbat which is smaller than the oud with a longer neck.

DBD: How is it living as an Iranian-American in the US? Is your music appreciated in this country?

KH: I have adapted really well. I’ve rarely had any issues as an Iranian-American. In fact, I’d say that my playing Middle Eastern music has helped me better integrate into the American society as an educator which I think is a good way to introduce my culture.

DBD: what can your music give to your community and musicians around you?

KH: I do lot of community work, whenever I can. We do a monthly residency in Austin which is free to the public. We use this as a platform to engage with Austin folks who’d like to be exposed to our music. These sessions are often very improvisatory and we often invite other musicians to come sit in with us.

DBD: How do you feel about music activism?

KH: I think it’s very important these days. Music has never been taken seriously enough that people treat it like other professions such as an MD, or an engineer, or a lawyer, etc. We need to make sure musicians are paid well for what they do and I am glad that organizations like the Musicians For Musicians (MFM) are doing this.

DBD: Thanks a lot for this interview and have a great show. Please enjoy your stay in New York.

KH: Thank you!

Concert information: