Galeet Dardashti duets with her famed Iranian Jewish grandfather in Monajat
Traversing space and time, Persian-Jewish singer, composer and anthropologist Galeet Dardashti collaborates with the haunting voice of her renowned Iranian grandfather, the late Younes Dardashti. Sampling from an intense audio artifact he recorded in Iran, Galeet brings some of the Persian legend’s music to life for new audiences on her latest album, Monajat (to be released September 9, 2023). The album features Galeet’s own artistic rendering of the Persian-Jewish Selihot ritual, with two talented Dardashti singers from different continents and generations chanting together and engaging in an exhilarating call-and-response, backed by some of New York’s most talented Middle Eastern and jazz musicians performing today.
Galeet explains: “Although I started singing professionally with my parents and sisters at age five, I never sang with my grandfather. He 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. My family was singing international folk songs and Jewish music, while he gave concerts of classical Persian music. So, when I would hear my grandfather sing as a kid, it was at once fascinating and very foreign.”
Known as “The Nightingale of Iran,” the Jewish-Iranian Younes Dardashti was one of the most celebrated master singers of Persian classical music from the early 1950s into the 1970s, performing at the Shah’s palace, at Iran’s most coveted concert halls, and in weekly prime-time radio performances with the Iranian National Radio Orchestra. Like his father and grandfather before him, he also led prayers as a cantor for the members of his community. In Iran, this was not a profession but rather an honor for a traditional Jew, and during his many years of national fame in Iran, he chanted the prayers for various synagogues in Tehran on the holidays.
“Though my grandfather was famous for performing Persian classical music in Iran, one of the few recordings my family has of him singing Hebrew liturgical music in Iran is his recording of Selihot—the poetic prayers chanted in the month before and during the Jewish High Holidays. This month is traditionally a time of deep reflection and spiritual preparation. In the Persian and Sephardic world, these prayers are chanted nightly that month, sometime between midnight and dawn.”
Those recordings of her grandfather’s pleading and passionate voice chanting Selihot always entranced Galeet, eventually sending her down a path of deepening connection to her own cultural heritage. Her anthropological research in Israel on the revival of Middle Eastern music there gave her the opportunity to study Persian classical music with a teacher who had adored her grandfather in Tehran. In the years since, Dardashti has earned a reputation as a trail-blazing performer, educator, and advocate for Middle Eastern and North African Jewish culture. She is the first woman to carry on her family tradition of at least five generations of distinguished Persian and Jewish musicianship.
While drawing from the Persian Selihot tradition in Monajat, Galeet composed or arranged many of the religious songs in the project, adding a number of Hebrew and Persian poems written by renowned poets of the Middle Ages that relate thematically to contemplation and renewal — her vision of Selihot. Video artist and designer Dmitry Kemell (Lustre) created an immersive and dynamic video production to envelop the performance space and bring audiences into the ritual.
“Monajat” is a Persian word denoting an intimate dialogue with the Divine. Galeet chose it as the title for the album because her grandfather’s original recording of Selihot ends with a powerful poem he called “Monajat,” which he chants in Persian — as opposed to in Hebrew, the language of Jewish prayer. Most likely written by Younes in the style of the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi, “Monajat” urges listeners to shake off their slumber and offer praise to God. In this way, Younes innovated the Jewish Selihot ritual with his own Persian composition. Galeet reflects, “The way my grandfather was seamlessly both Persian and Jewish in Iran is something I so want people to understand. 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.”
Says Galeet, “It is so powerful and moving for me to be able to sing with him and, at the same time, very intimidating, because he is this master. Though the Iranian Revolution largely erased my grandfather’s name in Iran, I’m honored to bring his incredible voice to the world again through Monajat—on stage and in my recordings.”
Come to the Monajat release at Littlefield in Brooklyn on Sept 9- details here!
As performer, composer, and anthropologist, Galeet Dardashti has earned a reputation as a trail-blazing performer, educator, and advocate for Middle Eastern and North African Jewish culture. As a performer, Dardashti is the first woman to continue her family’s tradition of distinguished Persian and Jewish musicianship. She is widely known as leader/founder of the renowned all-woman powerhouse Sephardi/Mizrahi Jewish ensemble Divahn, which released its newest album, Shalhevet, in 2020. She received a Six Points Fellowship for her first solo album—her multi-disciplinary commission, The Naming. Time Out New York described Dardashti’s music in The Naming as “urgent, heartfelt and hypnotic;” The Huffington Post called it “heart-stopping.” She completed an Artist-in-Virtual-Residence at Indiana University last year and recorded Monajat in Bloomington, IN. As a scholar, Dardashti examines Mizrahi music/media/cultural politics. She is currently Visiting Professor at NYU and will be a Fellow at University of Pennsylvania’s Katz Center this coming year.