Mohammadreza Kazemifar & Ali Analouei
Present-day Iran shares its borders and much of its culture with ancient Persia, a kingdom and the center of an empire that stretched from southern Asia to Egypt and north to the Balkan Peninsula. Though the empire fell over two thousand years ago, its musical traditions remain strong, upheld by gifted masters like singer Mohammadreza Kazemifar and his apprentice, Ali Analouei.
A Maryland grocer living in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, Mohammadreza is a practitioner and teacher of a Persian vocal repertory that has been passed down as part of a classical tradition for more than two millennia. Persian classical music is a deeply spiritual and contemplative art form that began as court music but became central to Iranian identity in the early 1900s. The music is characterized by its deliberate, dramatic vocals as well as the prominence of extended improvisations. When musicians accompany a singer like Mohammadreza, they look to him for vocal cues that shape their musical response. “If we played 100 times, it’s going to be 100 different ways,” apprentice Ali explains of Persian music. “It all depends on what we feel.”
Mohammadreza is decades younger than his apprentice, Ali, who is known as a master percussionist and is the president of Nimatollahi Gonabadi Foundation, a group teaching and performing Persian music around greater Washington, D.C. Yet, Ali wanted to work with Mohammadreza because the younger man’s vocal expertise offer him an opportunity to augment his mastery of Persian percussion instruments like the tombak and daf with more melodically centered abilities.