Members: Yuval Halpern, Babak Shafian, Hemad Darabi, Jawad Salkhordeh, Omri Abramov
Interviewees: Yuval Halpern, Babak Shafian
Nationality: Israeli (Yuval Halpern, Omri Abramov, Avi Albers Ben Chamo) & Iranian (Babak Shafian, Hemad Darabi, Jawad Salkhordeh)
Occupation: Israeli-Iranian music ensemble
Current Event: On April 17th, Sistanagila will make a concert recording available. The performance is a replacement for their cancelled gig at the Philharmonie Berlin at the end of May 2020. Watch the event here.
If you enjoyed this interview with Sistanagila and would like to find out more about them, visit their website for more information. They also have a Facebook page.
Babak: Even if Biden and the Iranian government return to the negotiating table, it will be very difficult to find a satisfactory solution to the Iran problem. Without an Iranian-Israeli rapprochement and, above all, without Iran's recognition of the state of Israel, there will be no such solution. In any case, a sustainable improvement with the current Iranian regime will not be feasible. In principle, the countries in the Middle East instrumentalise such religious differences to create certain images of the enemy, which in turn are meant to distract from the internal problems and their own political failure.
Disgusted by the anti-Semitic tirades of the then Iranian President Ahmadinejad and disappointed by their great resonance in the Western media, I developed the idea of creating a counter-voice early on in my life. I was determined from the beginning that this voice should be an artistic one, because artists are the critical voices in every society and it is therefore of immense importance to enter into contact and dialogue with them. This dialogue came about especially after the contact with Yuval. A musical dialogue that is still going on.
Yuval: Deep down, I a dreamer and believe that people should live together in peace. I always wanted to co-operate with the “other” side, be it Iranians or Palestinians. This opportunity came up when Babak contacted me through couch surfing.
What is the point of music if it is just something nice to listen to but doesn’t do anything or make people feel hopeful? I have hope that this project can change people's stereotypes and negative feelings. It might not bring peace but it would give the hope that peace is possible.
Babak: Music can make social problems tangible. It cannot solve them, that would be the task of politicians and the people who have the power to do so. But music has this incredible power to sensitise people and thus trigger thought processes.
Yuval: When I started composing I thought I would change the world with my music. As I met some amazing composers in my studies, I was doubting I might not be good enough and the world might be changed by other composers ... I started thinking: why am I composing, and then I made the decision its about enjoying the process of composing and I have to be true to myself and not try to be something I'm not.
I wanted to write film music and be the next John Williams. As I studied composition I didn’t know how to approach film makers, so I decided to write a piece for film but also make the film myself. In my second year I composed a full length musical which was also a dream of mine. Since then I've composed 5 full musicals.
I never thought Sistanagila would be a project that would mean so much to me. At the beginning it sounded like a gimmick and I was afraid the artistic quality would not be in the focus. As more concerts came along I understood this project is about the connection between people and not only the music. Usually there is ego involved in a music project, be it classical or pop. But here, putting the ego aside is what makes this project so enjoyable.
Babak: When we were looking for music to play together as a group we went looking at traditional Jewish and Persian music. We thought if we go deeper into history we might find more common ground. We discovered that Sephardic Jewish music has much more in common with Persian music, be it scales or harmonies. We both feel more at home. I think there are more things in common between Persian and Jewish Sephardic music than between Western Christian music and Klezmer Jewish music.
What unites us as musicians is that we all want to play the best music we can. Its not about who’s right or wrong, its about working together to create something new which is made up of each of us. What separates us is our personality and behaviour which is culturally different. Like in any band we had our highs and lows. It is an intense experience touring the country and being together on stage. The worse is the sound check which always brings up the not so nice side of us.
The interesting thing is that each culture finds the other culture more interesting, because it's new and fresh. The Iranians were the ones who insisted on playing "Hava Nagila" even thought the Israelis were sick and tired of playing this tune. The Israelis love a beautiful persian balad but the Iranians didn't find it as interesting as the Israelis.
What we do is try to give each song a new interpretation so it's fun and intriguing for us and the audience so we can enjoy playing it each time again and again.
In the last few years we have played many great concerts in Germany and abroad. For us, success is our constant development, both musically and as human being. The fact that we can reach more people every day with our music and voice is the greatest success for us. We have hardly experienced any critical voices so far. So far, there have been positive reactions throughout.
I don't think that artists necessarily have to deal with current social issues in order to be engaged. Rather, the artist has the gift of using his art to raise people's awareness and sensitise them to timeless issues such as freedom, equality or justice.
Books, websites, articles or other sources of information recommended by ensemble Sistanagila:
The book by Trita Parsi on the Iranian-Israeli relationship and the ARTE documentary (Part 1; Part 2) are definitely recommended.
About the rich history of the Jewish community in Iran I recommend the book "Esther's Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews" by Houman Sarshar.