Persian musician Hamin Honari opens new doors at Global Soundscapes Festival

This year's edition of the event salutes Middle Eastern music—and cultural sharing—in Canada

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      In the political sphere, it’s sheer folly to ignore the black clouds of corporate authoritarianism massing. But in the more idyllic world of music, we’ve never had it so good. Or at least that’s the opinion of percussionist Hamin Honari, an Iranian-born Vancouver resident who says the biggest joy of life in Canada is “the opportunity to learn from other people”.

      “This opportunity has only come once in history, where you see so much cultural interaction, with the Internet and all this,” he tells the Straight from Penticton, where he’s been performing with Israeli-Canadian guitarist Itamar Erez. “It’s a new era, I think.”

      With Erez, with jazz-trained guitarist and oud player Gordon Grdina, with his own family band, the Vashaan Ensemble, and with many others, Honari has been happily venturing into whatever doors have opened for him here in Canada. “Imagine you’re Christopher Columbus or something, and you stumble upon the New World, right?” he says. “There’s all these opportunities to explore. There are things, culturally, that you’re restricted to when you’re living in your home country; there are certain things you can’t do, or which aren’t culturally accepted. The government has control over music and arts, as well, and that doesn’t really exist here. One thing, for example, is that women can sing openly here, but in Iran they have to have male accompaniment to be acceptable. So just that openness, I think, really changes the music.”

      The Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra has been celebrating that kind of freedom and diversity for its entire history, and it’s now offering a chance for Honari, composer in residence Farshid Samandari, and its other Persian associates to take the helm. This year, VICO’s annual Global Soundscapes Festival is honouring Middle Eastern music in Canada, boasting an impressive lineup that includes international star Kayhan Kalhor, a virtuoso on both the bouzoukilike setar and the violinlike kamancheh; Montreal-based music historian and setar wizard Kiya Tabassian; and a bevy of B.C. residents, ranging from the Vashaan Ensemble to the Borealis String Quartet.

      And don’t miss the local debut of two of Azerbaijan’s finest musicians, Elshan Mansurov on kamancheh and Elcin Naghiyev on the setar’s larger relative, the tar. “I’ve never met anybody like these two guys,” says Global Soundscapes programmer Mark Armanini, who first ran into them while teaching in Amsterdam. “Their playing style is very ornamented. The tar player, in particular, is quite wild, and then the kamancheh player, Elshan, he is much more introverted. In a way, they sort of exaggerate the qualities of the Iranian music that I know. They’re maybe a little more romantic, but also a little freer, in some ways. These gentlemen are from Baku, and they teach at the conservatory there, but they don’t come across as conservatory types.”

      At Maqam Tradition, their Global Soundscapes showcase, Mansurov and Naghiyev will perform Azerbaijani music, but at festival gala Notes From the Araxes Basin, they’ll team up with VICO and Vietnamese-Canadian performer Bic Ngoc Hoang to premiere a new piece by Armanini.

      “I feel that there’s an interesting comparison between the koni [a rare, mouth-resonated Vietnamese fiddle] and the kamancheh, so the piece is really just a way to let all three of them express themselves in a way that, hopefully, is natural,” the composer explains. “The success of the piece will depend on how comfortable the two Azerbaijani players feel, and whether they’ll be able to really let loose.

      “They’re really quite explosive that way, and I’m hoping to draw that out of them,” he adds. “So that’s what the piece is: it’s a place where we can all express ourselves.”

      The Global Soundscapes Festival takes place at various Vancouver venues from Saturday (June 16) to June 27. For a full schedule, visit the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra website.