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Mah Banoo ensemble enchants with rare performance

03 April, 2019 — By Tessa van Rens

Last Sunday night in the Southbank centre, a small audience was part of a performance that was more than music alone; the long awaited reunion of the traditional Persian ensemble Mah Banoo, whose performances are illegal in their homeland of Iran.

Their immensely popular Youtube videos were banned and their director was banned from traveling abroad, because the constitution doesn’t allow female vocalists to perform for a mixed audience.

So, famous composer Majid Derakshani took his all female ensemble to London to perform his tasnif (classic poetry set to song), using the poems of the famous Sufi philosopher Rumi to create soulful, captivating music with an astonishing range.

Each of the eight musicians performed a solo to showcase the unique character of their instrument, and a sense of serene rebellion emanated from their every note.

The vocalist Sara Hamidi commanded the room as soon as she sat down, grabbing us with her powerful voice and never letting go.

The audience marvelled when her voice rose to that of a mezzo-soprano, a sound many haven’t heard in traditional Persian music since the revolution.

With masterful skill the musicians brought the stunning symphonies to life; the storytelling powers of the Qanun (a larger, more exciting harp), the depth and melancholy of the kamancheh (a Persian violin), and the wonderful daf (percussion) and tar players created a harmony that was greater than the sum of its parts.

Derakshani aims to introduce the Western world to Persian music, and this was an introduction I won’t soon forget.

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