Review: Iranian Festival Grand Concert, Studio 24, Edinburgh

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EDINBURGH’S favourite alternative rock club venue may have seemed an unlikely setting for a centrepiece event of this year’s third Edinburgh Iranian Festival, but an interior draped in Persian textiles transformed it into a welcoming Aladdin’s cave.

Iranian Festival Grand Concert

Studio 24, Edinburgh


Our garrulous host was the Irish/Iranian comedian Patrick Monahan, who introduced a diverse selection of traditional and contemporary music, from the all-acoustic Parvaz Ensemble and Baran Music Group to the pounding Persian/fusion dance beats of DJ Barfi.

The former two acts, the first specialising in Kurdish sounds, the second incorporating Indian and western elements, featured a variety of Iranian instruments, including tanbour, the Middle Eastern long-necked lute; the zither-like qanun; kamancheh – a round-bodied fiddle played like a miniature cello – and a variety of hand percussion, with the Baran group also adding saxophone, congas and Indian ney flute. Together with strong, soulful vocals, the music’s metallic tonalities and sultry maqam modes conjured a variety of moods – devotion, celebration, longing, ceremony, belligerence – enhanced by impressive instrumental solos. The near-total absence of any explanation, however, made it difficult – for the non-Iranian half of the audience – to engage beyond this basic level: a salient omission for a festival that “hopes to introduce Scotland to the heart and soul of Iran”.

The night’s third live act, the Ali Azimi Band, were a different puzzle, an odd hybrid of electric guitar-based western rock’n’pop with Iranian vocals, though their frontman proved a powerfully compelling singer.