Tag Archives: persian music

Rəşid Behbudov and Persian Santur


Rashid Behbudov

The Sayat Nova project has had a very productive week. A few days after I returned from Achara, Stefan, Anna, and I headed out to the village of Zinobiani in North-Eastern Georgia and recorded Udi music. (We’ll update you on this trip soon – Anna has a long Udi story to translate, as well as some information on the marriage rites of the Udi people). A few days later our good friend Erekle Qeshlashvili, a painter who specializes in  Georgian Orthodox icons, invited us to visit his icon studio and meet his friend Abbas.

Abbas turned out to be an incredible musician who had studied classical Persian music in his home country of Iran. Abbas is from Tehran but lives and works here in Georgia- He plays violin and Oud in a Iranian restaurant in the old city. We met with Abbas twice, once in the Erekle’s Icon work studio and yesterday he came to our apartment to drink some tea and help me repair my Oud.

During our first meeting, Abbas brought his Santur,  a Persian hammered dulcimer. He played a few improvisations for us while artists  in the studio painted icons and carved traditional Georgian ornaments into blocks of wood. Abbas seemed shy and reserved at first but as soon as we started talking about our project and  music in Iran and Azerbaijain, his eyes lit up:” I will improvise on a Rashid Behbudov melody.” Unfortunately, neither Stefan nor I had ever heard of Rashid Behudov but we still enjoyed Abbas’ playing:

After he’d finished this tune and discovered our ignorance, he told us all about Behudov. ” He was born here, in Tbilisi. He became a great singer and moved to Yerevan to sing in the opera. Later, after the war, he moved to Baku and became very famous.”

After further research, Rashid Behudov seems to be the pop singer version of Sayat Nova. He lived in all three of the major cities of the south Caucasus, he sang in Azerbaijani, Russian, Persian, Turkish and he toured all over the world: Iran, Turkey, China, Japan, Argentina and India where he performed in Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali!

Rashid Behudov was made famous by his role in the film “Arshin Mal Alan.” He played a rich man who disguises himself as a cloth peddlar so he can enter the cities’ courtyards and look at pretty women, in the hopes of finding a bride.


Since Abbas introduced me to Rashid Behudov’s music, I’ve watched about 50 clips of his performances but this one has got to be my favorite:

Meeting with Abbas and having these conversations about Persian music and the music of the Caucasus made me realize that the influence of Persian culture in this region is something that I occasionally take for granted. Most of both Azerbaijani and Armenian instruments are Persian in origin. The Azerbaijani Tar (the soloist in the beginning of the video above) was developed from the Persian Tar in 1870, when extra strings where added and the shape of the body was altered. Not to mention the theory behind Mugam has its roots in Persian music. I also live 20 minutes downhill from a Persian fortress in Tbilisi, in the old city which is full of buildings that were built in a Persian style, like this one:


In addition to introducing us to Rashid Behbudov and discussing the culture of the Caucasus with us, Abbas also allowed us to record him playing multiple improvised tunes on his Santur. I’ve posted some videos and another streaming track below.

Please continue to let people know about the Sayat Nova Project and the work we’re doing with musicians like Abbas, in Tbilisi and around the Caucasus. Our Kickstarter page is still up and running: http://kck.st/WxntHo


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Sayat Nova and The Color of Pomegranates

In each book I have read about the Caucasus, Sayat Nova is mentioned at least once, if not numerous times. It’s not difficult to see why.  His life and poetry are a conglomeration of the many  languages and cultures of the region. He trained as a monk at the Monastery of Sanahin, but later became a poet at the court of king Irakli II.  He was an Armenian, living in Tiflis (Tbilisi- the current capital of Georgia,) with a Persian name (Sayat Nova actually means “King of Songs” in Persian), who most often wrote in Azeri.

He composed over two hundred songs in four languages: Armenian, Azeri, Georgian, and Persian. Some of his poems move between all four. His polyglot verse is a reminder not only of the linguistic and cultural diversity of the region, but an indicator of the neighborly interchange once enjoyed in an area now discussed so often in relation to ethnically driven violence and border disputes. While Sayat Nova is most often claimed as a representative of Armenia’s cultural heritage, ultranationalist Armenians and Azerbaijanis alike may be horrified to learn that he often wrote poems in Azeri using Armenian script.

The Soviet Surrealist film maker Sergei Parajonov‘s most famous film, “The Color of Pomegranates”  is a visual biography of the poet’s life. The film was immediately banned by Soviet censors, but after Parajonov changed the title from “Sayat Nova” to “The Color of Pomegranates” and re-edited portions of the film, it was released in 1968.  The sureal images of Sayat Nova as a boy, lying on the roof  of an Armenian church covered in open books, their pages flapping in the wind, of the young boy’s father smearing the blood of a decapitated chicken across his forehead, of the poet as a young man dressed in a women’s veil and dress all must have surprised the typical Soviet film goer (other Soviet films of that year include War and Peace, a slapstick comedy film called The Diamond Arm, and the Russian animated version of The Little Mermaid). Parajonov was later imprisoned and sentenced to 5 years in a labor camp for “rape of a Communist Party member, and the propagation of pornography.”

Here is the link to that film with english subtitles:


And here is instrumental performance of what I think is one of Sayat Nova’s works:

(I plan on devoting an entire post to the instrument being played in the clip ((the Tar)) soon)

– Ben

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