Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Artists bring Persian culture to Tokyo audience

Artists bring Persian culture to Tokyo audience


It does not sit comfortably with Iranian-born Siavash Arianfar to be interviewed. But the truth is that, without Arianfar, it is unlikely that Caravan would have ever materialized.

Caravan -- a mystical journey along the Silk Road via Persian traditional music and Sufi poetry -- will take place Dec. 3 at Super Deluxe in Roppongi.

On that date, six male musicians and five female dancers will perform on two stages, accompanying readings of poetry in Persian and English translation by the 13th-century mystic Jalalud'din Rumi.

"Sufi poetry speaks of love and love and love," says Arianfar. "I read poetry, but don't need to write it. Rumi's words are enough. Entering into his poems is like entering a jungle, natural, free, wild."

Writing on Sufi -- the path to the truth and knowledge of ourselves through love, achieving inner peace and happiness -- Rumi wrote: "When I came to love, I am ashamed of all that I ever said about love."

Closely identified with Sufi mysticism, Rumi was born in 1207 on the eastern shores of what was then the Persian Empire. The town where he grew up, Balhk, is now in Afghanistan.

He settled though in Konia, in what is now Turkey. His epiphany as a poet was in meeting in the dervish Shams of Tebriz.

This was the point he left literary respectability behind and entered a world of mystically inspired devotion and creativity. Rumi was a poet of intuition, Arianfar explains. "There is a rhythm and emotional depth to his poems that transcend grammar.

By contrast, poetry by Hafiz (another famed Sufi poet of the same period) is a symbol of grammatical perfection for the academic world." Arianfar began to play the ney, a classical woodwind instrument, around the age of 20.

He then left family and friends in Tehran sometime after the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 and began traveling. Before coming to Japan in 1995, he spent the last five years of his wanderings in India, studying science at university.

"Why Japan? To be honest, I don't know why I came. I thought I would be here just a short time. The reasons began to clarify only after I found fellow musicians and we decided to play together, form a band."

Working as an electrician for a Japanese company means he is now both fluent and comfortable in language and culture. Teaching kung fu to'a twice a week in Tokyo's Sangenbashi and the Olympic Center means he is fit.

As Arianfar writes in his flier for Sound Mind & Sound Body: "To know yourself is to know the truth. Kung fu is the path to knowledge, the road to self-consciousness. Who are we fighting? It is a mirror of ourselves. The mirror of our actions and reactions is a companion or vehicle to face our fears, to free our brains from unwanted thoughts, and to connect self with the universe."

Kung fu, he says, helps toward living harmoniously free of bad intentions. Sufi poetry carries a similar message: Rumi: "I am neither of the East nor of the West, no boundaries exist within my breast." Also: "There are many languages in the world, in meaning all the same, if you break the cup, water will be unified, will flow together."

Celebrating his cultural heritage with Japanese musicians -- Madoka on tambour and tar, Ken on barbat (oud), Maya on tabla, and Junzo on daf and dahol -- the chance came to perform at Museum in Ogikubo in 2003.

Two years later, they performed again at the same venue, with an even larger audience. The word, it seems, was spreading. Just as the word spread along the Silk Road in the past. Because the Silk Road was not just a network of transportation routes for caravans of commodities, but a geographical space, with Central Asia the melting pot of many differing civilizations.

This multicultural wave of ongoing human experience reached China under the Tang Dynasty, and eventually reached Japan, with whom China had very good relations at that time.

Gagaku music, as played by the Japanese Imperial court, has roots in Persian music. "All Persian art springs from and works towards the reunification of man with God.

As Rumi says: "We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust." Music dissolves self, Arianfar explains. "It makes us realize we are everything and nothing."

Those who make the effort tomorrow to experience this latest caravan of Persian culture will not be disappointed.

The audience will be sitting on ancient Persian carpets loaned by Miri Collection, and the performance will be illuminated with stunning candles both large (very large) and small, designed by June.

"We will drink chai, share the spices, the music, poetry, spiritual dance, the candlelight. We will be one." Rumi: "Listen, while the music doth play, knowest though what it would say? Hither, hither, come with me, I will show the road to thee."

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