Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat: Traces of an Old Vineyard

February 22, 2018 | Blog | Anahita Ghaffari

Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat have made it their mission to bring traditional Iranian music to the world. Widely known as distinguished ambassadors of Iranian culture, the sisters began their musical journey by studying classical Iranian vocalization under the supervision of Pari Maleki and Sima Bina.  Throughout the years, Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat have continued their musical studies through formal training with master pianist Minoo Mohebbi, as well as collaborations with renowned international vocalists and composers.

Due to Iran’s religious restrictions on live musical acts, Mahsa and Marjan, among other female vocalists, are prohibited from performing for men in their home country. These regulations came about after the revolution of 1979 and the rise of the Islamic Republic and the fall of the monarchy. Although it’s been almost four decades since the change in regime and Iranian women have regained their rights to some extent, there are still plenty of restrictions put on female artists and performers. For Mahsa, this leaves a bitter taste of longing for the possibilities of what could be; both in terms of production and recording, as well as human connections, regardless of gender.

Notwithstanding this barrier, Mahsa and Marjan, with an impressive repertoire of ground-breaking and one-of-a-kind productions, are much loved in Iran and abroad, and have performed in numerous concerts and festivals across Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

The Vahdat sisters’ bold style of singing has been recognized by many international awards’ juries. The sisters’ vocal expression and performance, that is distinctly Iranian in foundation, has adopted elements from various international genres including: jazz, gypsy, and flamenco.

Classical Persian, Kurdish and Azeri songs, have allowed the Vahdat sisters to develop an outstanding collection of songs to carry messages of love, hope, and peace across the globe. Mahsa and Marjan are no strangers to using music as a platform for creative expressions that knows no barrier to cross-cultural exchanges.

Mahsa got international recognition first as a contributing artist in “Lullabies from the Axis of Evil”, a collection of traditional lullabies sung by women in a number of countries. Compiled by Norwegian music producer Erik Hillestad in 2004, this album was a response to Iran and other countries being named Axis of Evil, with the goal of bringing a sense of empathy and compassion towards the citizens of these lands.

Some of the sisters’ notable releases include; “Songs from a Persian Garden”, “I am Eve”, and “Twinklings of Hope” which won the Independent Music Awards in 2012 in the World Traditional Album category.

In the 2009 album “Scent of Reunion – Love Duets Across Civilizations”, Mahsa joined American soul artist, Mighty Sam, to form an unlikely duet with synergistically combined vocals in Farsi and English.  The success of this album led to a second collaboration between these two artists in 2012 in an album titled “A Deeper Tone of Longing – Love Duets Across Civilizations”. The silky voice of Mighty Sam, the determined vocals of Ms. Vahdat, and the mystical sounds of Iranian instruments such as ney and kamancheh merge to create a wondrous atmosphere in every track.

The 2013 solo album by Marjan, “Blue Fields”, has been critically acclaimed as an achievement that carefully and creatively merges east and west. This album was created through a collaboration of Pasha Hanjani on ney, Shervin Mohajer on kamancheh, and Norwegian musicians Gjermund Silset on double bass, and Kenneth Ekornes on drums and percussion. Recorded in a Swedish chapel, the soulful vocals of Marjan is the element that completes this unique international ensemble. Her second solo album, “Serene Hope”, released in 2017, is a collection of diverse melodies and rhythms that has been well received by audiences and critics. This enchanting production is the result of a joint effort involving four musicians from around the globe: Ahmad Al Khatib from Palestine on oud, Ertan Tekin from Turkey on duduk, Ali Rahimi from Iran on percussion and Gjermund Silset from Norway on bass.

In 2015 Mahsa released “Traces of an Old Vineyard”, a collaboration with the Norwegian jazz pianist, Tord Gustavsen. Mahsa won the German critics’ award in 2016 for her work “The Sun Will Rise”. The latest work from Mahsa Vahdat “Endless Path” was recorded together with the Turkish musician Çoskun Karademir and released in 2017 to exceptional reviews.

In their continuous dedication to inspire change through music, Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat have worked extensively with The Freemuse Organization. Freemuse is an independent international organization which advocates freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide. Mahsa Vahdat was the recipient of the Freemuse award in 2010 alongside Ferhat Tunc, a Kurdish singer from Turkey. Moreover, Marjan Vahdat participated in the Music Freedom Day in 2007 by putting on a vocal performance. Music Freedom Day is an annual global celebration that takes place in March, where international artists and organizations come together to produce local cultural events.

In the 2018 Tirgan Nowruz Festival, Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat perform with the Norwegian jazz pianist and composer, Tord Gustavsen, and the LA based drummer, Greg Ellis, on percussion. The repertoire for this program consists of songs originally composed by Mahsa and Marjan to classical poems of Hafez, Rumi, Khayyam, and contemporary Iranian poets such as Mohammad Ibrahim Jafari. This exclusive production is an innovative performance by these skillful musicians, who elegantly create contemporary tunes with elements of jazz improvisation and Iranian traditional vocalization.