The band Cyminology lets 'Arabian Nights' collide with urban jazz, proving that the two make for a surprisingly good combination. The Berlin-based quartet makes protest music that is a pleasure to hear.
"Saburi" represents a new direction for the four members of Cyminology, whose first three albums set the poems of old masters to music. The new CD's title translates to "patience," and that's just what singer Cymin Samawatie needs when she thinks about the political upheaval in Iran in the last few years.
The Berlin-based musician grew up in Braunschweig, but her parents are from Iran. She feels a close connection to their home country.
The album's title is also a reaction to the violence initiated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's security forces after the most recent elections in Iran. It's Cymin's form of protest.
"My hands cannot play what my ears heard," sings Cymin on one track. "My words cannot describe what my eyes saw. My heart cannot bear what I'm feeling. My tears cannot bring back what has left our world."
Seeking the right language
Philosophy, poetry and protest from singer Cymin Samawati
Another song explores the helplessness the singer feels in light of circumstances in Iran, but there's also a track offering hope that at some point everything will turn out for the better.
"It was really important to me to write about this issue," Cymin explained.
Other tracks also have a philosophical bent. Questions about life and the sense of it all weave their way through the disc - questions that Cymin Samawatie discovered partly in works by Persian poets like Khayyam and Rumi from the 12th and 13th centuries. For example, how much does our environment influence us? What can we do to change it? How accurate are the images we have of ourselves?
The singer put down all of her words in German, then had them translated into Farsi by someone who is a bit more at home in the language than she is.
"I also considered singing in German, but the sound of Persian is just so much more colorful, and it comes closer to my own interior world," she explained.
If Goethe can do it...
The band started with English lyrics in 2002. That was until Cymin discovered a CD of her aunt's containing verses from the Middle Ages by her favorite poet, Khayyam. Cymin was so enthralled by the find that she sung a version of the tunes and presented it to her jazz professor and then her band mates. That was the beginning of a new era for the singer.
"I love the sound of the language, especially these old poems - there's just so much there, so many meanings," she said. "It's about desire and about questions that preoccupy us: where I'm from, where I'm going, who I am. And I find it sad that so much has been lost in the translations. I always say people should just learn Persian. Goethe did it at 60, so it's never too late!"
Jazz between Occident and Orient: Cymin Samawatie and her band
Cymin has some accompaniment on her journey from Occident to Orient: a capable German-French-Indian band that can alternate smoothly between urban jazz and Arabic flourishes. Elegiac piano moments switch off with dynamic drum sequences and pulsating bass. And Cymin's mysterious and gentle voice lilts above it all - a bit like an exotic instrument.
"For outsiders who don't really understand the texts, it's basically instrumental music - similar to classical music," the singer pointed out. "You pick up on the sound and can get lost in that."
Sophisticated and dynamic
Cyminology has played international festivals from New York to Korea and has picked up a following in the Middle East. On tour, the band brings along a message with their music.
"We inspire various cultures to come together, and we present the beautiful sides of Iran. People forget quickly that what they hear in the news is mostly the negative stuff. We have the chance to use art to show the positive sides," Cymin explained.
Last year, Cyminology won the Creole World Music Prize, an annual German award that honors world music artists. The band called it a big surprise, but audiences likely found it less so. What the quartet offers is a sophisticated and dynamic sound that has the intimacy of chamber music, but global scope.
Author: Suzanne Cords / gsw
Editor: Kate Bowen