By Lauren Monsen, Staff Writer, IIP Digital (Managed by the U.S. Department of State)
Washington -- When fusion vocalist Hamed Nikpay walks onstage, his audience can expect to hear a soulful, richly layered sound that combines Nikpay’s Persian musical traditions with the Latin rhythms of flamenco and the fluid melodies of jazz.
Iranian-born singer and musician Hamed Nikpay (center, with raised hand) appears onstage with fellow artists, performing a fusion of Persian, flamenco and jazz music.
For the past several years, the classically trained Persian singer and instrumentalist has joined artists from different musical backgrounds to create a sound that blends ancient and modern elements. Nikpay - who was born in Tehran but now lives in San Francisco - said that in the United States, he has been embraced by a diverse group of accomplished musicians eager to work with him.
“As an artist, I appreciate this reciprocity and collaboration, which in many ways can only flourish in an open culture and society like the U.S.,” he said.
Nikpay began singing and playing music in early childhood and moved to the United States in 2005, at age 27.
“I learned the basics of traditional Persian music from my mother, who herself sang and loved poetry,” he said. “Later, in my adolescent years, I received voice training from some of the masters of Persian music, which solidified my knowledge of the foundation of classical Persian music.” He also learned to play traditional stringed instruments - including the oud, tar, setar and tambour - as well as the daf, a type of frame drum played with a strike of the hand.
Despite his grounding in Persian culture, Nikpay’s musical tastes have always been eclectic.
“Throughout my life, I have listened to all types and forms of music, from classical Persian to the music of Spain, India and Turkey, rock ’n’ roll, jazz, classical and you-name-it,” he said. “I learn something from these diverse genres, and what I write and perform, although it does not represent any single genre, it is definitely influenced by them.”
Nikpay has a particular affinity for flamenco, which he described as “a kindred spirit” to Persian music. Singing is at the core of both musical styles.
Invariably, Nikpay sings in his native Persian, and he composes his own music, sometimes collaborating on arrangements and harmonization.
Fusion vocalist, instrumentalist and songwriter Hamed Nikpay plays a setar
“All the lyrics to my songs are selected by me, and they are written by some of the most revered Persian poets, both classical and contemporary,” he said. “It is my intent, in my own small way, to use my music to ... expand the listener’s awareness of the beauty and richness of Persian culture, poetry and music.”
Some of Nikpay’s most popular songs, such as “Revelation,” feature lyrics by the 13th-century mystic poet Rumi. Rumi’s poems are usually about love and union with the beloved, and explore such mystical themes as levels of being and communion with God.
In his song “Deceit,” featuring lyrics by contemporary poet Emad Khorasani, Nikpay sings and plays the setar, accompanied by a flamenco guitarist, a cellist and a percussionist. The song is a lament about the vagaries of love, and Nikpay’s singing conveys emotional urgency.
Nikpay has a strong fan base among Iranians and Iranian Americans, but also attracts fans with no ties to his country of origin.
“My English-speaking fans share their interest in my music without knowing the lyrics,” he said. Music is a language without boundaries, he added. “I am a strong believer that what comes from one’s soul touches others’ hearts.”
Nikpay has performed widely in Europe, Asia and Iran, and regularly tours North America. He is currently working on his next album, and won’t predict whether it will be similar to his earlier recordings. “Making music requires patience and time to mature, and the final form may sometimes vary widely from its initial structure and sound,” he said.