Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

What is Persian music like?

According to the announcement, it should be a kind of variation on Arabic music, i.e. the music as played in the Arabic speaking countries ranging from North Africa to Western Asia. It seems that pure Persian music has been lost in time, only to surface again mingled with the melodies which the Islam spread from Baghdad to Cordoba in the wake of its conquests. After the fall of these proud cities, we had to wait till the 19th century for a revival which is still developing today.

The “Degocha Ensemble” which I am about to hear, consists of a male singer, accompanied by a drum (tombak), a string instrument (târ) and a reed flute (nay). For some reason however, the flute player was not available and the nay has been replaced by another string instrument, the name of which I didn’t catch.

Sitting in one of the front rows, I have all the time to take a closer look at these peculiar instruments. The leader of the group plays the târ. This instrument has the shape of a calabash. About 1/3 of this gourd has been cut off lengthwise to which a rather long handle has been attached to support the six strings. It is played like a guitar and sounds like its remote brother, but warmer I would say. The other string instrument is smaller and is played held upright on the knee of the musician. It looks as if it is made from the calabash’s bottom and counts only four strings. The drum is bigger than I would expect, maybe 50 cm in diameter and its wooden barrel has the elegant shape of a huge chalice.

Musique persane 1ere partie door shadok2006

The music sounds very different from what I have ever heard. It calls for visions of arid plains where any sound resonates in the overall stillness of the landscape while at other times, images of Persepolis come to my mind with dancing girls entertaining the king and his court. Maybe King Darius (and Alexander the Great) once listened to some similar melodies, who knows? There definitely are Ottoman influences in this music with an occasional string of notes related to music from the Maghreb. Musicologists have taken the trouble to explain that the rhythm varies from 10/8 to 3/8; well, I'm not going to figure that out! The singer has quite a lot to tell and I regret that I can’t understand his story. Somehow, he reminds me of a bard travelling from one place to the next, telling his tale. Why didn’t we receive a translated text? Even a summary would have been helpful.

After this inspiring and captivating performance, I make this remark to the gentleman sitting next to me. He kindly confirms that he understands the language, well most of it. According to him, the songs were poems from the 11th century, mostly about love and lost loves (of course). With a deep sigh, he expresses his hope to return to Iran one day. I take a closer look at him for nothing betrays his eastern origin, an Iranian with pale blue eyes and light hair? I can’t help but smiling for I have thoughts of the Macedonian army veterans left behind in Persia by Alexander the Great. Well, why not?

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