A trio playing Iranian regional music
The Iranian woodwind instrument, sornā, was the most popular instrument amongst the musicians of Ayenedar festival of regional and ritual music in Iran.  ©

Mani Lotfi Zadeh

A Report on the Third Regional and Ritual Music Festival of Iran Ayeneda and the music and musicians of Zagros mountains and Persian gulf.

Raman Mirbahrami

The third festival of regional and ritual music of Iran Ayenedar was held as, according to Mohammad-Reza Darvishi, more than seventy percent of the artists who had participated in the first and second festival had passed away. Thus, more than being an arts event, holding of this festival is a danger alarm for Iran’s culture and art. With the passing on of such masters, a considerable share of ancient forms of Persian music is in danger of obliteration. 

Holding of this round of the festival, with a focus on music from the Zagros region, was for many of the music lovers of the capital cause for amazement, as they were hearing something from the regional music in Iran which had rarely been attended to before. On the sidelines of this important event, there were several points to consider, which I shall briefly address. 

This festival is almost entirely held by the efforts of the private sector. In fact, the founder and the head of this festival is Ehsan Rasoulof, who has made a name as a proliferative music producer in recent years, having supported bands like Damahi, Pallett, Bomrani, Raam and Kamakan. Rasoulof, whose name is associated with certain controversies, in a noteworthy move in 2013, founded the festival Ayenedar with Mohammad-Reza Darvishi, notable researcher of Iranian regional music, as its artistic director. In that first edition of the festival several masters of music from the eastern regions of Iran, like Noor Mohamamd Dorpour, Zolfaqar Asgarian and La’l Bakhsh Peyk, took to the stage. Several of these then-elderly masters have unfortunately passed on since and the festival of regional music Ayenedar acted as a platform for their final official public performance. Tending to such artists is usually the responsibility of arts organisations and cultural managers. Therefore, and also due to the unprofitability of such performances, entering of a producer from the private sector to this scene is an event worthy of consideration. 

Each year Ayenedar music festival focuses on a specific region of Iran. This is a different approach to that of the state-held annual festival of regional music which has rarely been held regularly and consistently and, for instance, had a three-year gap between its eighth and ninth festivals. The first festival was held in September 2013, in which 30 artists participated from the eastern and southern regions of Iran, Torbat-e Jam, Bakharz and Sistan and Baluchestan. The venue for this festival was the Iranian Artists’ Forum. The second festival was held in June 2015 with a focus on the music from southern regions of Iran; 120 artists from Hormozgan, Bushehr and Khuzestan participated in the festival which was held in Rudaki hall. And the third festival was held this year from 14th to 16th of July, with a focus on the ethnic music from the Lur, Lak and Bakhtiari nomads of Charmahal, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, Mamasani, Qashqai and Ilam, again in Roudaki hall. Up until the second festival, Mohammad-Rreza Darvishi was the artistic director of the festival and Ali Maghazei acted as the executive director. In the third festival, Darvishi resigned from his previous post, Maryam Gharasoo became the research director of the festival and Ali Maghazei the artistic director. Darvishi, however, continued to collaborate as a consultant. A number of performers were identified and invited to the festival through Ali Maghazei’s numerous travels all around the country. Produced by Ehsan Rasoulof, Ali Maghazei has been making documentaries on artists of regional music all over Iran for the past ten years; the seed of this festival, in fact, was planted based on his travels. Seemingly, the division of various regions for different festivals are also based on the researches and personal experiences of Darvishi and Maghazei, and the studies of the research director of the festival. 

A duo performing Iranian regional music
A duo of vocals and ney performing at Ayenedar festival of regional and ritual music of Iran. ©

Mani Lotfi Zadeh

This year, in the third Ayenedar festival, 60 players and singers took to the stage during three evenings. The majority of the musicians played the sornā, which is a wind instrument used in the music of various regions of Iran. Sornā players from various Lur, Lak and Qashqai tribes were present. The sornās were tuned diversely and came in various sizes. Each player had his own style and played in a unique way. These players were hosted by the residents of the capital, Tehran, at a time when the radif-dasgāhi music – for which scholars like Hooman As’adi deem the title classic Persian music as more accurate – dominate the better share of the music market, apart from pop music. In this musical current, “imitation” has turned into a serious issue both in singing (it is about twenty years now that the voices of the new generation of singers are said to resemble that of the well-known Shajarian) and in playing (most players of classic Persian music are trained based on the same methods and taught by the same masters and they sound the same). But no such issue exists in the case of regional music. In the second time slot of the first evening, artists from Mamasani and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad took to the stage. This orchestra consisted of six singers who, despite the proximity of their musical content, had entirely different articulations and each sang in their very own style. This variety had an important message for the artists of the capital: that each instrument can have its very own voice. The festival was not received with much enthusiasm by radif-dasgāhi musicians and most of the artists who attended the festival were from the alternative music scene.  

The interesting point in the performances in this festival from an aesthetic perspective was the freedom in structure and form. As mentioned, the majority of the musicians played according to a personal style and each person did as he saw fit. It was as if musical rules and principles were not welcome here; aesthetics, however, had the highest status. It was as if these regional artists played whatever they deemed aesthetic. This is not to imply that they were undertrained or lacked any specific form or model. The majority of the successful regional musicians have begun their training as children under the supervision of their fathers and have been strictly trained according to age-old traditions. Nonetheless, what came to pass from 14th to 16th of July bore witness to the freedom of the spirit of artists, most of whom performed solo in accordance to a personal taste. 

What has occurred with regard to the field of regional music in Iran in the past thirty years tells us that, apparently, caring for and survival of this intact art is bound to individual efforts of the private sector (in Ayenedar festival, all performances have been carefully recorded from the very first festival). Just as the better share of the artists we know today as regional musicians are the outcome of the travels of the likes of Darvishi to various regions. Tending to the music of the much varied ethnic groups in Iran, however, demands and deserves much more substantial efforts.


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