Kronos Quartet, Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat: Placeless

July 30, 2019

Homes Away from Home

Listening Post 212. Can art and politics remain separate? Can musicians avoid banning? Can corrupt leaders escape satire? Freedom is everywhere in the imagination and often scarce in the real world. Songs from a beautiful album like Placeless (لامكان) ought to navigate auditoriums, airwaves and digital channels everywhere; and yet, doesn’t conflict pump oxygen into creativity? Perennial issues all, and fuel for Kronos Quartet, the Grammy-winning string ensemble venerated for using music to promote global understanding and for collaborating—in concerts, through education and on more than 60 recordings—with artists from around the world. Based in San Francisco, Kronos travels by choice and the group’s latest album is a partnership with Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat, performers of Persian songs rooted in classical and regional folk sources, who travel by necessity and record abroad because of Iran’s restrictions on women singing. The collection’s title track comes from a poem that anticipated today’s art-authority tensions by 800 years: “I am neither Christian nor Jew/I am no Magian, no Muslim/I am not from the East, nor from the West…/My place is placeless/My trace is traceless.” Thus wrote Rumi, one of six Persian poets—classic and contemporary—whose work Mahsa Vahdat put to music for the album devoted, title track aside, to expressions of love. Passion is all absorbing in My Ruthless Companion (video 1) and has healing power in the pizzicato-framed I Was Dead (video 2). In the melancholy Vanishing Lines, strings echo western Romanticism (video 3). Leyli’s Nightingales evoke the name of Mahsa and Marjan’s mother, and also the heroine of a twelfth-century love story (video 4). Kronos creates an organic acoustic setting for the Vahdat sisters’ exquisite vocals, which embrace calm and vulnerability with magnetic dignity. The sisters may be denied a hearing in the land of their birth, but their rich particular-universal message is welcome in homes as countless as the stars. (Valley Entertainment/Kirkelig Kulturverksted)

Mahsa Vahdat, Marjan Vahdat: Vocals

Kronos Quartet
David Harrington, John Sherba: Violins
Hank Dutt: Viola
Sunny Yang: Cello

Note: Kronos Quartet founder David Harrington says the ensemble’s goal is “to be a revolutionary force, not just in making music but in exploring ways that music can increase our understanding of our times and our connection to people around the world.” When the Trump Administration issued its 2017 executive order limiting travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations, Harrington conceived a series of protest concerts called “Music for Change: The Banned Countries,” featuring works from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Mahsa Vahdat participated in the series concerts in New York, Washington and Boston.


My Ruthless Companion
Poem: Rumi/Melody: Mahsa Vahdat
Vocals: Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat

(from the Persian/Farsi lyrics)
Oh my companion, my ruthless companion
My beloved and my treasurer, 
my ally and my secret bearer
On earth you are my moon, at midnight you are my morning dawn
Oh, my sweet mist, you are my protection in this storm

You find your way into my soul like
a healing worm
You are my faith and my religion,
a sea of gems brimming
You are a torch to night-farers,
a rope to the drowning
You are a compass to any caravan,
you are my guide

You are my cellmate in this prison,
a laughing master at my side
To be in your presence requires
a hundred times my best stride


I Was Dead
Poem: Rumi/Melody: Mahsa Vahdat
Vocals: Mahsa Vadat

I was dead, I became alive, I was tears, I became laughter
The happiness of love came,
 and I became eternal happiness
My eyes are full of joy, I have a brave soul
I have courage like a lion, I became the shining Venus

He told me: you are not crazy enough, you don’t deserve this home
I went and became crazy,
 I was entangled with chains
He told me: You are not drunk,
 go away, you don’t belong to this circle!
I went and became intoxicated, 
I was filled with joy

I belong to you, my moon, come and behold you and me!
Because of his laughter,
 I became a laughing garden


Vanishing Lines
Poem: Hafez/Melody: Mahsa Vahdat
Vocals: Mahsa Vadat 

A life ring is my longing for you,
 drowning, as I am, in wine
Advise the barrel to keep the air locked,
 for the tavern is in ruins
The beloved is gone and in my tearful eyes
Her image can only be drawn in vanishing lines

Wake up my eyes for there is great peril
In this onslaught of sleep of mine
The mountains and plains are full and verdant
This world is but a passing current, 
let us waste no time


Leyli’s Nightingales
Poem: Atabak Elyasi/Melody: Mahsa Vahdat
Vocals: Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat

Once upon a time a lover gave to Leyli 
two nightingales which were flying in a garden
One of the nightingales is made by dawn and light, 
the other is from the light of the moon and the sun

One sings from the depth of her heart the bitter story of the present times
The other one makes songs from the stars 
and spreads them to the graveyard of the nameless

If Leyli touches the two nightingales, they will sing the song of liberation




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