Bringing a 13th-century Persian poet up to date

Los Angeles-based Chloe Pourmorady’s debut album combines Farsi, Hebrew, Ladino and English.

By GEORGE MEDOVOY
August 18, 2019 22:33
Bringing a 13th-century Persian poet up to date

Chloe Pourmorady . (photo credit: GEORGE MEDOVOY)

LOS ANGELES – Imagine a musical album recorded in Farsi, Hebrew, Ladino and English that is based on Jewish prayers, the poems of a 13th-century Persian poet, and lyrics written by two contemporary musicians.

It could only be Begin Majesty, the debut album of Chloe Pourmorady, the Los Angeles-based singer-composer-violinist, whose musical message resonates with a joyous awakening to life’s richness.

Featured on the album, which is available on iTunes and Spotify, are Pourmorady’s original compositions, Farsi numbers, several Sephardi songs, and her wonderful seven-piece ensemble.

Pourmorady’s father, Kourosh, played an important role in the creation of the album, writing most of the lyrics for the Farsi numbers. Pourmorady speaks warmly about his collaboration, noting that while he is not a musician by profession, “he has a very strong, natural sense of music.”

“He has a beautiful voice and writes beautiful music as well,” she adds. “I’ve collaborated with him a lot musically in my life.”
The album’s producer, Israeli-Argentinean Daniel Raijman, is also the ensemble guitarist.

The soft-spoken, 29-year-old describes the title of her album as a command: “It’s somebody saying, ‘Go forth and begin majesty. Begin creating, begin your splendor, begin your beauty, your grandeur, begin majesty....’”

The album contains “a lot of stories, a lot of different environments and places,” Pourmorady notes, some of it at once haunting and mystical, yet at times playful, too.

In fitting fashion, the album opens with the first few words, sung in Hebrew, from the Book of Genesis (“Bereisheet”), about God creating “the heavens and the earth.”

“So the album starts with the creation of the world,” says Pourmorady, “and then with each following track journeys through a story line of discovering joy, discovering the soul, freedom from the ego, discovering love, parting with love, going through all of this.”

And is there an ending to it all? Pourmorady answers this question in the final track of her album, called “Requiem: The End,” where the “cycle keeps going and actually might never end.... All of that is also majesty... it’s beauty, it’s majestic, this journey of life.”

Another track, “Bipayan” (“Endless” in Farsi), is Pourmorady’s version of a kind of miniature symphony – “really a combination of all of my influences in one piece of music.”

I could see why she calls “Bipayan” one of her “dense compositions,” because it is so full of musical complexity, including her stunning violin virtuosity and, as she describes them, “the textures of all the instruments in the ensemble.”

“Bipayan” is in three movements,” Pourmorady explains, “and travels through

The track “Angels & Insects,” in both Farsi and English, has an almost dreamlike quality to it and won an Independent Music Award in 2014 for Best Eclectic Song. Pourmorady revived it and rerecorded it for the album.

THE ARTIST’S formal training was in music, violin and ethnomusicology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the Kodaly Method at New York University, and a number of folk music traditions – from Bulgarian singing to Gypsy violin – in the United States and overseas.

Like so many Iranian Jews, her family left Iran for the US after the revolution. A first-generation American, she describes her background as a combination of Iranian, Jewish and Sephardi, with roots on her father’s side that she traces back to pre-Inquisition Spain – roots to which she feels “very strongly connected.”

“When I hear Ladino,” she says, “when I sing Ladino, I feel like it’s mine, I feel it’s something I can express well and feel very connected to. I feel very connected to Spain, as well.”

But with so many cultural influences, the creative artist recognizes that a part of her is likewise very American.

“I also grew up with rock & roll, with jazz, with Western classical music,” she says, “so I have a combination of all of these loves and interests, and they also affect how I create.”

Pourmorady refers to her ensemble as “very, very... special people,” representing a mix of Iranian-Jewish, Egyptian-Lebanese, Israeli-Argentinian and American backgrounds.

“Each of their instruments brings such a beautiful color to the music,” she says. “You can hear their personalities in their playing, you can hear their sense of humor, you can hear their mysticism, their depth, you can hear their passion.”

She mentions “the beautiful Persian tar playing of Alexander Meimand, an instrument that takes listeners back to ancient times; the innovative and passionate guitar playing of Raijman; the intricate percussion work of Ava Nahas and Jamie Papish; the grooving bass of Ramin Abrams; and the humor of clarinetist Zack Lodmer.”

“It’s like each instrument is a character,” she says. “I hope our listeners can really feel the passion and soul that each musician emits. Not one note on this album was played without soul.”

Besides her concert work, Pourmorady teaches music, songwriting, singing and violin privately and has given concerts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, London and Israel.

Last summer, she performed with singer Liraz Charhi at Zappa in Tel Aviv.

“That was really a great experience,” she says, “because the audience in Tel Aviv was so warm and engaged, very supportive.
“I really want to perform in Israel a lot more. I feel that this music will be very well received there because Israel is so diverse.”
Recording the album was a dream of Pourmorady’s for a very long time. She praises the work of Raijman for his role in coordinating the entire production. “Daniel was with me through every step of the process,” she says, “and I’m so grateful for his creative partnership.”

The recording took place in Los Angeles at Hanukkah, and during dinner breaks the musicians lit Hanukkah candles.
Pourmorady acknowledges that the Iranian-Jewish community has had a “very good” reaction to her album.

“One of the reasons that I wanted to record this album,” she says, “is so that we have something to be proud of, something to remember. It’s kind of a stamp in time, and it says a lot about my generation as well.”

But the ultimate goal, of course, is to reach a very broad audience – to “touch the human spirit.”

More background about Pourmorady is available at www.chloepourmorady.com


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