Shahsar's Persian delights

If Amir Shahsar hadn't annoyed his dad, the local ethnic music fraternity might have lost one of its brightest talents.

amir shahsar 88 298 (photo credit: )
amir shahsar 88 298
(photo credit: )
If Amir Shahsar hadn't annoyed his dad, the local ethnic music fraternity might have lost one of its brightest talents. Today Shahsar is a celebrated master of the nei (Persian flute), percussion and singing, and teaches many of this country's budding ethnic musicians. His recently released debut album, Botec'hin, showcases his considerable skill and artistry. "When I was a kid, back in Iran, I had a melodica (wind piano)," he recalls. "One afternoon, just when my father went off for his siesta, I took the melodica and started practicing on it right next to the window which overlooked his bedroom on the other side of inner yard. It woke him up and he was so annoyed he threw it out of the third floor window. I never managed to repair it." Shahsar has certainly moved on since his melodica days. Since coming here 13 years ago he has climbed the local ethnic music hierarchy and has begun traveling extensively outside the country too. A couple of days after we met at the School of Eastern Music and Dance, in the picturesque Jerusalem neighborhood of Musrara where he teaches, Shahsar was due to leave for a round of gigs in Mexico. "Yes, things are progressing for me," he observes. "And it's great to have finished the new CD." Anyone who has followed the local ethnic music scene over the past decade or so will have noted Shahsar's name in the program notes of scores of gala performances around the country, not to mention the liner notes of all manner of CDs. So, why has it taken until now to put out an album in his own name? "I don't know, Shahsar admits. "Maybe I was busy doing other things. And you have to find the right people to work with. [Executive producer] Ishay [Amir] helped me a lot, and he's a musician himself so he knows how to work with musicians. Anyway, there's something appealingly natural in doing things gradually." Considering his chosen musical field, one could be forgiven for thinking that Shahsar is resigned to making a decent living while not exactly enjoying global superstar status. For Shahsar, the latter may be somewhat in the realms of hyperbole, but he still believes his art form has popular appeal. "OK, so I don't expect what I do to get onto MTV," he notes with his tongue firmly placed in his cheek," but I think there are a lot of people who are looking for something more natural, closer to the roots, than all that synthetic, plastic stuff you get on MTV." When it comes to a non-global village approach Shahsar practices what he preaches. "I don't have a computer at home, and my cell phone conveniently breaks down all the time," he says. "I don't rush to get it fixed." The line notes on Botec'hin describe the album as "Persian classical music with master musicians from Iran, using classical and folk instruments." The 10 cuts on the CD not only showcase Shahsar's instrumental and vocal finesse they also offer a heady taste of the classical oeuvre from his country of birth. "I'm not interested in the MTV 'I love you, you love me' type of song," says Shahsar. "You can say that in classical Persian songs too, but in a different way. I think you can hear that on Botec'hin." Shahsar, it seems, was destined for a musician's life. "At school, instead of concentrating on what the teacher was saying, I was always drumming on my desk, to check out the sound quality of the wood," he recalls. "One day my teacher asked my dad to come to the school. He told him I was a really bad student, but an amazing drummer." Academia's loss is our gain. For more information go to