Intimate celebrations for family and friends have just begun, but the time for a public party comes this Saturday.
No-Rooz, the Persian New Year, began on Monday, the first day of spring, and the celebration lasts two weeks. That gives people time to renew friendships, make up with enemies and re-establish ties with family members.
“(It’s) exactly right after the time breaks for the spring, then everyone kisses and hugs,” says Alan Kushan, music director for the Persian Center in Berkeley. “Musicians start playing, everyone’s dancing. It’s just havoc.”
While the occasion is mostly a stay-at-home family feast, Saturday’s Azerbaijani concert will let the people celebrate No-Rooz (Farsi for “new day” and “new year”) in public.
The concert, which will be at the Santa Clara Convention Center, will feature major Azerbaijani and Iranian acts, including pop singer Aref and the more classical vocalist Malak Khanim Ayyubova. Ayyubova just concluded a goodwill mission with the Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev to Turkey, where she performed for top officials.
The show is organized by the San Jose-based Azerbaijani Cultural Society, and it attracted about 250 attendants in 1997, its first year. This year, the 600-seat theater is expected to be sold out. Many of the attendees will be members of the local Iranian population which ACS president Mohammad Taheri estimates to be around 100,000 with about 40 percent Azerbaijani.
The joyous folk music has a history going back thousands of years. Its lyrics are often culled from classical Persian poetry. However, Azerbaijani music is unfamiliar to many Iranians.
“This is the most important thing, you will not certainly find it in any other parts of Iran,” Kushan says.
The Azerbaijani come from the northwestern part of Iran and the Azerbaijan republic, formerly part of the Soviet Union until 1991. While the culture, language and music of the two regions are similar, the upbeat, traditional Azerbaijani music flourished in what is now the republic.
Meanwhile, religious music, sometimes somber and melancholy, dominates Iran. Audiences, Kushan says, are “not allowed to cheer or show emotion.”
The motifs of Azerbaijani music often revolve around nature and love, although the theme of the homeland understandably resounds very strongly now, because of the country’s hard-fought battle for independence. The uplifting rhythm can get fast-paced, and often lends itself to acrobatic dance.
Saturday will feature a blend of the ancient traditions with modern overtones. The traditional music style called moghamat, which Taheri says goes back more than 1,000 years, involves the tar (stringed instrument), kamancha (similar to a fiddle), naghara (percussion instrument) and the ghaval (wooden frame with animal skin). Ayyubova, who performs the moghamat, has especially tried to bridge the musical past with the present.
Pianist Chingiz Sadykhov represents the new era in Azerbaijani music and the introduction of the keyboard.
In more of the dance music mode is Aref, whom Kushan describes as “genuine, traditional Azerbaijani totally in one with the music.” Aref, who lives in Los Angeles, was the first to introduce Western melodies with romantic lyrics in Iran. He received the Highest Cultural Imperial Medallion from the Shah for singing at the 1974 Asian Games.
Kushan points out that the Azerbaijani people have 365 different celebrations for each day of the year, and music and dance for every occasion. That kind of party mood fits in perfectly with celebrating No-Rooz
“Azerbaijani music always involves people,” he says. “It comes from the native source, very genuine, very uplifting.”
What: Azerbaijani Concert
Who: Malak Khanim Ayyubova, Aref, Chingiz Sadykhov, Rahman Asadollahi, Vahid Asadollahi, Behrooz Farrokhi, Farhad Farajli, Ashraf Ashrafzadeh, Farhad Bayramov, Safar Rezayev
Where: Santa Clara Convention Center, 5001 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
How much: $30 advance, $35 at the door, $15 youth under 10 (sold at concert location only). Advance tickets may be purchased at local Iranian grocery stores (such as Bazar Tajrish, 1512 Sunnyvale Ave., Walnut Creek, 925-932-8404; and Royal Food Market, 1602 Washington Blvd., Fremont, 510-668-1107)
Call: Concert information, 408-377-6178; directions 408-748-7000.