American audiences are being introduced to various kinds of esoteric music that at first were limited to immigrant communities. Today New American Voices introduces you to an Iranian immigrant who is an accomplished musician on the kamanche, or Persian spiked fiddle.
The concert took place at noon at an Episcopal church in the center of busy downtown Washington. Some one hundred people who came to listen were transported to a world far removed from the one bustling around them outside the church doors.
Two musicians sat cross-legged on a vivid Persian carpet spread on a platform, with the church's stark altar and stained glass windows as a backdrop. Brian Silver, a specialist in Indian music (and chief of VOA's Urdu service), played the sitar, while Cyrus Dehnadi performed on the kamanche, a standing four-stringed bowed instrument, and the tonbak, or Persian drum.
Cyrus Dehnadi first learned to play as a child growing up in Shiraz, the ancient cultural capital of Iran.
"Like any little boy, that their parents want them to learn it, I learned an instrument because my father wanted me to - and then as soon as I was a teenager, I put it aside. And later in my life I thought, wow, this is a wonderful resource, and so I started picking up the instrument again, and play it, and it became very instrumental in my life."
Although classical Iranian music is a vital part of his life, and although he occasionally performs in public, Cyrus Dehnadi says he is an amateur musician. He makes his living as the proprietor of a small printing shop on the outskirts of Washington. Mr. Dehnadi immigrated to the United States in 1983 with his wife and small son, hoping to complete doctoral studies on the problems of rural areas. Supporting a family on the small salary of a teaching assistant proved to be difficult, however.
"I was living with a student visa, and my resources were running out, my wife didn't have the permit, as the wife of a student, to work, so I had to do something and I wanted to make sure that I didn't do anything illegal, because I had promised myself not to do anything illegal. And I ended up in Washington, and still with a student visa I could legally start a small business."
Cyrus Dehnadi started his print shop in late 1983.
"I started with nothing. A very nice bank manager helped me to borrow some money and lease equipment, and in this same location I have been doing good business, relatively speaking, because mentally I'm not a businessman, I'm still dreaming of going back to rural development. Usually I have about three-four-five people working there. I can run anything from an offset press to programs and different PC platforms. I have a few number of customers, just enough to put bread and butter on the table."
Cyrus Dehnadi says that although his life in America has not always been easy, there are compensations.
"For two reasons I feel at home here. I have had my own ups and downs, you know, but I think I'm a good survivor in a new culture. The first thing that I felt at home was the nature. The beauty of nature in the United States, I really loved it. And then the next thing was people. They have been so nice. Sometimes even if I had problems with, like institutions, -- I couldn't get the kind of job I deserved, I couldn't finish my dissertation, which I certainly deserved, and all these things basically I could ignore them because of other aspects of life, the, you know, people."
And always, there was the music. Mr. Dehnadi describes it as food for his soul.
"It helped me basically to separate my work from my life. I would go home, this instrument was sitting on a little table next to the entrance of my little home, I would pick it up and play for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and it would basically put me from one world to another."
Excerpt from performance
Cyrus Dehnadi performing Indo-Persian improvisations on the kamanche, with Brian Silver on the sitar.
English Feature #7-38050 Broadcast April 1, 2002