Ostad Elahi

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COMPOSERS: Ostad Elahi
LABELS: Le Chant du Monde
ALBUM TITLE: Celestial Dances
WORKS: Celestial Dances: The Art of Oriental Tanbur Lute
PERFORMER: Ostad Elahi (lute tanbur)
CATALOGUE NO: 774 1327
This is like uncorking an ancient perfume. Ostad (‘Master’) Elahi lived from 1895 to 1974, and played in a style unique to that part of Sufi Western Iran where music was seen as the hotline to God. He performed for family and friends on the now-rare tanbur lute, and his playing is austere: a drone string underpins the simple melodies above, with the fifth rather than the octave being the basic interval. But there’s nothing simple about the harmonies: playing simultaneously in three registers, he superimposes layers of overlapping melodies, while the harmonic base shifts constantly. The earliest of these pieces dates from the early 1950s; you can still hear music like this in neighbouring Tajikistan, but it’s a dying form, so catch it here while you can. Michael Church