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Iranian musician Hanna Jahanforooz keeps Persian culture alive

CM 05/05/2021

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 Life experiences, including challenging ones, are grist to the artist’s mill. Hanna Jahanforooz has been through more than her fair share of trying events tailor-made to inspire her craft. Some of her character-forming bio milestones feed straight into her music. This will be reflected in the material she will perform at this Thursday’s (May 13, 8:30 p.m.) gig at Confederation House in Jerusalem when she showcases numbers from her new mini-album From Iran to Rumi, along with a broad-ranging slew of songs she has penned and arranged over the years.

Shifting one’s home base to a different part of the world with a different culture and/or set or mores can be an ordeal. That can count double when it happens at a particularly sensitive stage of life. Now an established member of the international world music scene, the vocalist was a tender 12-year-old when her father decided enough was enough and that matters were becoming overly dicey in Iran. It was high time they hot-tailed it out of there. 
“Life was getting very difficult. It was the mid-1980s, only four years after the [Iranian] Revolution, and it was the middle of the Iraq-Iran War,” she recalls. “My dad said it was time to leave.” 
Luckily the family had some financial wherewithal and that helped them navigate their way through Pakistan, and they eventually made it over here in one piece. 
“They smuggled us across Pakistan like we were weapons,” Jahanforooz chuckles. “We were caught a few times but, you know, in a Third World country you can bribe people. That’s how we survived.”
Once here, the family was beset with all kinds of cross-cultural and bureaucratic hurdles, although the youngster had an escape valve. 
“I always loved to sing,” Jahanforooz says, “and I think that helped me get through all of that. My father is now 90 and he still doesn’t really speak Hebrew well. Things got turned upside down in Israel. We, the children, became responsible for our parents here.”

While the youngster may have formed a strong bond with music and developed her own take on musical expression, the Israeli music industry movers and shakers were not exactly queuing to sign her up. 
“You know, in Iran I was ‘a dirty Jew’ and here I was a Persian. No one was really into the music I wanted to get out there.”
Then again, not long after Jahanforooz got here, a certain Rita began to make serious waves across the local pop and rock scene. Jahanforooz says that didn’t really help her gain a foothold in the music consumer sector, though. 
“Yes, she is my cousin. People are always trying to make something of that,” Jahanforooz notes wryly. “I suppose that’s a marketing thing. But our music is very different. There isn’t much common ground between us.”
OVER THE years, she developed her craft and gained quite a following around the world with views of some of her You Tube videos, including an English-language number, “Let Me Fly,” gaining six-figure hits. 
“I am much better known outside Israel,” she says. “I have toured in France, the United States and other places. People really like my music and singing, but it is more difficult here.”
From Iran to Rumi is Jahanforooz’s third release to date and she says it marks where she is today and the road she has traveled thus far. 
“That is who I am really. I am a Jewish woman, a mother and an Israeli – but I am also Persian. I have two homelands and two cultures.”
In fact she spreads her personal and creative net across even more cultural domains. There is an alluring, almost mystical vibe to some of her songs. That, she says, can be attributed to Sufi influences, as indicated by the inclusion of Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet, scholar and theologian in the title of her new four-track record. Jahanforooz got into Sufism around 11 years ago when she went to Turkey to shoot a video clip for a song called “Darvish.” There she met a local who told the singer about Rumi and, together, they went to a city called Konya where the revered poet died and was buried in 1273. 
It was something of a homecoming for her. 
“I met an Iranian musician there who also did yoga and built musical instruments. I was drawn to the spirituality of Rumi and Sufism.” 
That is palpable in “Darvish” and other songs she performs and has recorded, and she was clearly enchanted by Rumi’s final resting place. 
“I felt the angels dancing there,” she laughs. “The city and the burial place were so peaceful. He talked about music and love for humankind.”
It was an all-round harmonious interface, although she notes it was not an overnight fix. 
“The people we met there embraced us as Israelis. But it took me a bit of time to absorb Rumi’s writings.” 
But there is no time like the present and if you think about it, the simple fact of the matter is that at any given moment it is always the present. Jahanforooz firmly believes in the here and now, and tends to go with the flow. 
“There is a saying that when the student is ready the teacher arrives. The music just came to me.”
SUFISM HELPED fuel the belief in a natural continuum. Rather than trying to force things through, one needs to be in tune with the forces around us, and to simply latch onto things as they come into view. 
“I learned a lot from the Sufis,” Jahanforooz states. “When I was in Turkey I noticed that they hold their hands upturned when they eat. They lay their hands on the table, pointing upwards. I asked them why they do that, and they said they are giving thanks to God, and it reflects the belief that what we get is what we need. Sufism is a philosophy, a way of thinking, not a religion.”
Persian music and Persian culture are central to Jahanforooz’s very being and not just in a pure artistic sense. 
“I used to teach at-risk youth, and I worked with Ethiopian kids and helped them study for their bagrut examinations. Today I teach Persian and Iranian culture. I want to help to disseminate that and to keep it alive.”
The Confederation House show should contribute in that regard. Jahanforooz will perform with a quartet that includes Idan Armoni, who plays various Western and Eastern string instruments, and also scores the band’s songs, and Lillian Bezalel on nay (Persian flute). Ben Dagovich will keep the rhythmic department going on a range of percussion instruments. Sufis are also known for their whirling Dervish dance elements, and Thursday’s audience will be treated to some beguiling moves courtesy of Noa Framer.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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