Date: Saturday, June 4, 2011
Venue: Town Hall (NY)
Concert review by Augusta Palmer
Sima Bina has been singing professionally since she was 10, and she was already a star on Iranian television and radio when the Shah was still in power. So, this sixty-something Iranian diva is no longer a child but she’s still a prodigy: a beauty with a fiery voice who is also an extremely capable band leader.
On her current tour, she is ably accompanied by the members of the Lian Ensemble, an L.A.-based group of traditional Persian musicians which includes Amir Koushkani (composer, tar, setar), Sharvin Mohajer (kemancheh), Ali Nourbakhsh (daf, dayereh), Pirayeh Pourafur (composer, setar, tar) and Houman Pourmehdi (composer, donbak, daf, ney). Sharvin Mohajer’s kemancheh, a bowed instrument reminiscent of the violin but held like the Chinese erhu, took the lead on many songs, but the beautiful sound of the tar (a six-stringed lute), the ney (flute), the daf (frame drum) and the donbak propelled the music forward.
Some music is powerful enough to open doors on (nearly) lost spaces, and Sima Bima certainly does this. Her singing sketches the outlines of a country where she can no longer perform publicly for a mixed audience, simply because she is a woman. The sound of her voice evokes a world of poets and the pleasures of wine, tracing the changing seasons as a metaphor for the shifting moods of lovers as time passes them by.
By turns melancholic and boisterously joyful, her performance last week at Town Hall included not only Iranian folk songs but also a set of songs from her native Khorasan, an area in Northeastern Iran whose name translates as “where the sun comes from”. Though I don’t speak Persian and could not understand the intricate layers of literary allusion in the lyrics of these songs, it is a rare pleasure to hear a singer with the vocal power and variation of Sima Bina. Her voice is as trained as any player or instrument in the Lian Ensemble. Together, their performance had an enthusiastic crowd at Town Hall on their feet and begging for more. When the doors blew open and the screaming siren of an ambulance rushed by on 43rd Street, even that noise was sucked into the mix, backing Ms. Bima’s vocals as elegantly as the tar and the ney.