Nelia Safaie: Songs from Lands of Silence

August 4, 2020

Beauty in the Dark

Listening Post 264. Dawn is inevitable but some nights are longer than others. The eight songs of Nelia Safaie’s debut solo album are suspended in the fog between night and day, winter and spring, sadness and happiness. She sings gently, often with exquisite melancholy and ultimately with hope. Her poetry is both explicit and allegorical, images from one song shadowing themes from others so that everything just over her horizon—sunrise, flowers, comfort for a crying child, recovery from an earthquake, the redemption of her country—is linked. Safaie’s career as a singer-songwriter has followed a path well-traveled and scarred with uncertainty: She was born and raised in Gorgan, near Iran’s Caspian shore, where she studied voice and violin and learned an array of Middle Eastern string instruments; she moved to Teheran for its greater musical opportunity, training with renowned voice teacher Mahsa Vadat and pursuing a career in a country that bars women from singing solo in public. Safaie writes and sings in Farsi and Mazandarani (spoken in her home region) and records with the Norwegian label Kirkelig Kulturverksted. Though modern Iran imposes silence, she finds solace in the long arc of history: I’m Another Nakisa pays homage to a woman composer-musician who achieved mythical status in Persia’s pre-Islamic Sasanian Empire (video 1). The night is full of activity and planning in Shoopeh, with its beguiling atmosphere of voice, baglama and duduk (video 2). In Iran, the Ancient Land, the artist asks her country to reveal its true face to the world with “Lips full of silence and heart full of words” (video 3). Dawn finally breaks in Telavang (video 4), but a lover’s delay leaves the tension unresolved. It’s from darkness that all free nations emerge; anticipating the light, Nelia Safaie’s beautifully patient voice makes the pain of waiting easier to bear and gives the inevitable sunrise a needed push. (Kirkelig Kulturverksted)

Nelia Safaie: Songs from Lands of Silence / آوايي از سرزمين سكوت
Nelia Safaie: Vocals, tar, setar, baglama
Gjermund Silset: Double bass
Emre Sinanmis: Duduk
Keneth Ekornes: Percussion

Lyric translations in English: Farshad Rahnamoon and Parisa Zoghi


I’m Another Nakisa / من، نکيسايي ديگر
Lyrics & music: Nelia Safaie
Nakisa was a renowned harp master and composer during Persia’s Sasanian Empire (224-651 CE)

(From the Farsi lyrics)
I paint on canvas/my own Nakisa in red
my hair in black/then request love

When the sunset light/is bound to my canvas
I become quiet/then I create
my own Nakisa


Shoopeh / گيسوى
Lyrics: Nelia Safaie/Music: Reza Kabiri

(From the Mazandarani lyrics)
It’s night, I shall go to the field/And scream to make the pigs run away
Without light, I put a sickle on my shoulder/I walk through the fields till the night is gone
I walk, and I scream/Till the sunrise comes and the rooster sings
Sometimes I have rendezvous with my love/Lord, when is the night going to be end?
I shall go to the spring/And wash my face and feet
And go to my love and get comfort


Iran, the Ancient Land / ايران ، سرزميني کهن
Lyrics & music: Nelia Safaie

(From the Farsi lyrics)
My Iran, show your face to the world/Morning is coming, beautiful!
Remember from a new sun/The day is coming when you will laugh like this

I know this complicated way/when your rivers are dried
when your sky is full of fear and hate/Stay till you see the spring of earth

I come from an old land/Lips full of silence and heart full of words
From silent and sad roads/From that precious mountain
Stay an old, patient land

My Iran, show your face to the world/Morning is coming, beautiful!
Remember, from that far distance/I come back for you to smile
That’s it …


Televang / تلاونگ
Lyrics: Unknown/Music: Emad Ram, adapted by Nelia Safaie

(From the Mazandarani lyrics)
The cock crows and the night is over but/My beloved has not returned yet
My heart is full of sadness/He is gone and he took the light of my eyes with him
Because of so much waiting, my feet became numb/My heart is filled with sorrow
Where is my beloved! Why is he so late!?

Finally, the star became silent/and the morning emerged
The sun rose, and I’m still hopeful



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