Mahsa Vahdat: Enlighten the Night

November 16, 2020

A Blazing Grace

Listening Post 278. Paradox or simple fact, the greatest expressions of freedom often emerge from landscapes where it is conspicuous by its absence. Having grown up in a nation that prohibits public singing by women, the Iranian vocalist-musician Mahsa Vahdat knows the push-pull of oppression and resilience. She sings truth to force in the form of classical and contemporary Persian poems, put to music with spare but masterly accompaniment and with an incandescent voice that penetrates darkness and comforts souls. Marginalized she flourishes, banned she resists, honing her extraordinary talent and an ability to cover great distances—she records in Norway and currently lives in Berkeley, California—even as she carries her culture within. Much like Yalda Night, the Persian winter solstice festival, Vahdat’s tenth album explores facets of light, representing wisdom, clarity, truth and, ultimately, hope. Through 12 poems—sharing creation of compositions and melodies with husband and arranger Atabak Elyasi—Vahdat projects images of meadows and caravans, of lost birds and a precious cup that remembers hundreds of kisses, of an everlasting environment and its transient residents. In the title track she gazes east “with rapture in my craze and light in my vision” (video 1). Jazz tones announce Bootarab, evoking a tenth-century musician who replaces “our sorrows with songs of joy” (video 2). The conviction that underpins I Will Build You Again, My Country—”with bricks made of my heart”—turns the symbolic palpable (video 3); while Farewell is a song of resignation directed toward a lover but perhaps to a country as well (video 4). One of three poems on the album from Omar Khayyam, If I Were God proposes moving the world to a new place (video 5). With aching power and grace in the assertion of her natural right to sing, Mahsa Vadat makes light work of transcending borders and centuries. (Kirkelig Kulturverksted)

Mahsa Vahdat: Enlighten the Night / مى تابم به شب: مهسا وحدت
Mahsa Vahdat: Vocals

Tord Gustavsen: Piano and electronics
Gjermund Silset: Double bass
Kenneth Ekornes: Drums and percussion
Shervin Mohajer: Kamancheh

Related post. Kronos Quartet, Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat: Placeless, Listening Post 212, July 30, 2019


Enlighten the Night / مى تابم به شب
Poem: Mohammad Ebrahim Jafari
Melody: Mahsa Vahdat
Composition and arrangement: Atabak Elyasi

(From the Persian lyrics: English translations by Mahsa Vahdat and Erik Hillestad)
Enlightening the night from the East
With rapture in my craze and light in my vision
I am a fearless bird
My open wings sing with me
They set me free, free to fly
Above a dark field I remember the sea
I tumble, and soon my dance will open hundreds of shells


Poem: Rumi (13th century)
Melody: Mahsa Vahdat
Composition and arrangement: Atabak Elyasi

From the album notes: Bootarab was a 10th-century musician who was famous for joyful songs. Keyghobad was the king who received Rumi and his father with respect when they immigrated to Konia.

Venus has played the mode of the heart since the dawn
Good news that Bootarab replaced our sorrows with songs of joy
The sea of compassion is boiling, pull out the cotton from your ears and listen
What he gave us last night, is gentle to you and us
Love is happiness, under its name we perform the sermon
I hope the grace of Keyghobad never leaves our heads
This hangover made us restless from the first day
The windstorm of your love makes me cross the sky like a cloud
It pushes me, I am proud and moody
The desire of the world brings me out of my control
My feet were in the mud, because I was doubtful
Thanks that the doubt left me, and I became certainly in love
Mofta elon fa elat, I am becoming out of myself
How can I speak? I am vanishing in a trance


I Will Build You Again, My Country
Poem: Simin Behbehani
Melody: Mahsa Vahdat
Composition and arrangement: Atabak Elyasi

I will build you again, my country, with bricks made of my heart
I will raise pillars to carry your roof, built with my own bones
Again I will smell the perfume of flowers desired by your young ones
Again I will wash the blood off your skin with currents of my tears
One day the darkness again will leave this home
and I will paint your blue sky with my poems
Again I will sing a verse of love for you with joy, my homeland
When I open my mouth, every word will be born in the depth of my heart
Again you will make me strong, even if my poem is drenched in blood
I will build you again, my country, even if it is beyond my power


Poem: Saadi (13th century)
Melody: Mahsa Vahdat
Composition and arrangement: Atabak Elyasi

Caravan leader, slow down!
The comfort of my soul is leaving
With my beloved, the heart I owned is leaving

Stop the camels, don’t rush the caravan
For the love of that beautiful one, my soul is leaving

Through the night I can’t repose, reproach I can’t receive
My steps have no direction, from my command the rein is leaving

About the moment when the soul leaves the body there are many stories
But with my own eyes I see my heart is leaving


If I Were God
Poem: Omar Khayyam (11th century)
Melody: Mahsa Vahdat
Composition and arrangement: Atabak Elyasi

If I were God, commanding the universe
I would remove this world from its place,
and create a new existence for the free souls,
where all their desires could be fulfilled

Those who departed before us, O wine bearer
resting in the dust of pride, O wine bearer
Drink wine! I will tell you the truth
Whatever they told is wind, O wine bearer



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