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Persian Jewish musician, Galeet Dardashti, duets with her famed Iranian grandfather in Monajat

With Monajat, Dardashti re-imagines Selihot from the Persian tradition

Monajat (which will release on September 9th) is inspired by old and haunting recordings of the prayers of Selihot chanted by Galeet’s late grandfather, Younes Dardashti, a famous master singer of Persian classical music in 1950s/60s Iran. Riffing off these old tapes, Galeet sings with remixed samples of her grandfather and composes a soundscape of original music performed by an acclaimed ensemble of musicians.  The live performance immerses audiences in heavy grooves, sacred Hebrew and Persian poetry, and dynamic video art.

 Be’chol Lashon Interview with Galeet Dardashti

 TBL: Your grandfather was an incredible musician in Iran! Can you tell us a little bit about his life, what it was like growing up with that musical influence, and what this album means for your relationship? 

My Saba (grandfather), Younes Dardashti, had a difficult childhood as an orphan in Tehran.  But through his extraordinary talent he became one of the most renowned master singers of Persian classical music in Iran in the 1950s/60s: he had his own weekly primetime spot on national radio, he sang at the Shah’s palace and at prestigious concert halls throughout Iran.  He was a big deal!

This album is very exciting for me because it’s allowed me a way to connect with my grandfather. I, unfortunately, didn’t know my Saba that well.  He and my Savta (grandmother) lived far away, and when we’d see each other, I couldn’t really communicate very well with him because he didn’t speak much English, and I didn’t speak Persian.   I’m really honored to be able to sing with him and to share his incredible voice with a new generation and audience.

TBL: You shared in a recent Instagram post (@galeetd) that this album was deeply personal to you. Can you share with us what inspired your album?

Yes.  So, despite my grandfather being a big deal in mainstream Iran, he was also a Persian Jew and so he often led services as a volunteer for different synagogues in Tehran, since there were no professional cantors.  This album came about because I fell in love with a recording of my grandfather in Iran singing the prayers of Selihot–the pieces chanted every night for a month before the High Holidays.  His voice is so extraordinary and I wanted to find a way to connect with him and this music offered a way.  I got to reimagine this Persian music of Selihot on my own artistic terms by sampling my Saba, composing music around him, singing in unison with him and trading verses with him.  Creating this music with my extraordinary musician-collaborators has been so moving and powerful for me.

TBL: What is the significance of the title of the album?

Ah!  “Monajat” is a Persian word that describes an intimate conversation with God.  My Saba’s recording of Selihot ends with a powerful poem he called “Monajat,” which he chants in Persian — as opposed to in Hebrew, the language of the other Jewish prayers in Selihot.   Nobody in my family knew where this poem, Monajat, came from–it was just a piece with which my grandfather ended Selihot when he led services–his unique thing.  It was written in the style of the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi, and urges listeners to shake off their slumber and offer praise to God.  After asking around, I’m pretty sure that my grandfather wrote this text himself and then musically interpreted it as he would with the other classical music he sang.  I thought this was so amazing to see how my Saba innovated the Jewish Selihot ritual with his own Persian composition.  It gave me artistic license to compose music for this Selihot ritual myself–with my own musical influences, which are quite different from his!  So the title of the album emphasizes my inspiration for the album.

TBL: What do you hope is the impact of your album and your music?

My hope is that many people will hear this music and realize that it is both deeply Persian and deeply Jewish at the same time. My grandfather was seamlessly both Persian and Jewish in Iran.  For me, emphasizing the shared culture of Muslims and Jews is a very important goal with Monajat—particularly at a time when our communities often find themselves divided.

I also want people to be blown away by my grandfather’s voice and talent and I’m excited about having people hear my voice–a woman’s voice–sing this sacred Persian music.  But most importantly, I hope folks will enjoy the music.  I’m very proud of the album.  The musicians I worked with are some of the best in New York City and one of them, the amazing bass and oud player Shanir Blumenkranz, produced the album.

TNL: What’s next for you? How do we stay in touch?

My album release concert is Saturday, September 9th in Brooklyn!  Please check out my website galeetdardashti.com to find the album and for my upcoming projects and performances.

The night of my album release I’ll also be releasing the trailer for a new documentary podcast series I created with my sister Danielle Dardashti. It’s called The Nightingale of Iran and it’s about our family’s journey from Iran to America and Israel. It’s about identity, belonging, and music.  Subscribe beginning September 9 wherever you get your podcasts!

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