Music for the Persian New Year: Mamak Khadem

Iranian-born vocalist Mamak Khadem, formerly of the Persian-fusion band Axiom of Choice, performs songs inspired by melodies from Armenia, Kurdistan, Baluchistan, and Turkey, as well as music from Iran. Her ensemble features Ole Mathisen, clarinet and saxophone; Jamshied Sharifi, keyboard; Hamid Saeidi, santur (hammered dulcimer); and Ben Wittman, percussion. This performance was recorded in concert at the Freer Gallery on March 7, 2009, as part of the Freer and Sackler’s celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year.


Mamak Khadem, vocals
Jamshied Sharifi, keyboard
Ole Mathisen, clarinet and saxophone
Hamid Saeidi, santur
Benjamin Wittman, percussion

Gelayeh 0:00–5:54
Based on a melody from Baluchistan, traditional lyrics

Baz Amadan (The Return) 6:00–10:45
Based on an Armenian melody, lyrics by Jalal al-Din Rumi (13th century)

Avareh (Homewrecked) 10:45–16:50
Based on a Kurdish melody, lyrics by Baba Taher (11th century)

Valeh 16:58–25:48

Nobahar 25:56–30:48
Song made popular in Iran by the vocalist and actress Delkash (Esmat Bagherpour Baboli, 1924–2004)

Hardan 30:50–33:42
Based on a Kurdish melody

Heydar 33:52–41:50
Music by Ali Ekber Cicek (Turkey, 1935–2006)
Lyrics by Amir Fatahi (b. 1977)

Bigharar (Restless Yearning) 42:10–50:20
Based on a melody from Fars (southern Iran)
Lyrics by Siroos Jamali (b. 1971)

Selected Song Translations

Translations by Yatrika Mariam Shah-Rais and Josiane Cohanim
From liner notes to the CD Mamak Khadem: Jostojoo/Forever Seeking (Banyan Tree Productions 2007)

Lyrics by Anonymous

You left and broke your vow
To another you promised yourself
Your heart you gave away without shame

You killed me with just one look
Oh how could you
How could your eyes have no shame.

Baz Amadan (The Return)
Poetry by Jalal al-Din Rumi (13th century)

Once again I have returned
Once more I have come back
I come from the Beloved
Look at me, see me
Full of empathy I have returned.

Blissful I come, blissful
Bearing a message
Which took millennia
To put into words.
I will return, I will return
To my ascent, I will return
Release me, unbound me
For to this refuge I have come back again

Once a time
A celestial bird
Soaring high in the heavens
Blind to the bait
I plummeted to this earthy fate

Do not look at me with your two eyes
Gaze upon me with your third eye
Come see me in the splendor of my heavenly abode
For here, I come bearing no gifts

O Shams Tabrizi
When will your light shine upon the universe?
Bring me solace
For to this earthbound desert
I have returned full of pain

Avareh (Homewrecked)
Poetry by Baba Taher (11th century)

I do not know the object of my heart’s folly
Homewrecked, I do not know where it dwells

I do not know to whom belong these bewitching eyes
That have enslaved my vagrant heart.

Lyrics by Siroos Jamali (b. 1971)

I am in turmoil by your departure
Wanderer I have become
Bewildered and confused

O Beloved
O beautiful lover of broken hearts
Return to me, please return

In loneliness, let me be remembered
I am silenced, call out my name
From your grief, bring me release

The pain of loneliness is mine
The sorrow of disgrace is mine
Passion and lovesickness, all mine

Restless my sleep, beyond words my grief
Alone I lie at night
In the embrace of your apparition


Mamak Khadem, vocals, has been called “one of the wonders of world trance music” by the Los Angeles Times. She has performed throughout the world, appearing at the Perth Concert Hall (Australia), the Greek Theater (Los Angeles), the Freer Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Museum of Folk Instruments (Greece), the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance (Ireland), House of Culture (Germany), California Plaza Grand Performances (Los Angeles), the Skirball Cultural Center (Los Angeles), the World Festival of Sacred Music, (Los Angeles), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles), and the Voices of Women Festival (Greece). An active recording artist in Hollywood, her voice can be heard in the films TrafficBuffalo SoldierDracula 2000, and Persona Non Grata, as well as the television programs Buffy the Vampire SlayerBattlestar GalacticaDark Angels, and Profiler. She performed for Bahram Bayszai and Mohammad Reza Darvishi's theatrical production Majles-e Shabih at Tehran's City Theater in 2005. Formerly lead singer of the Persian-fusion band Axiom of Choice, she released her first solo album, Jostojoo/Forever Seeking, in 2007.

Jamshied Sharifi, keyboard, graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. In 1983, he was named Outstanding Pianist at the Collegiate Jazz Festival at the University of Notre Dame. From 1985 to 1992, he led the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble, recording two CDs and winning the ensemble prize at the Collegiate Jazz Festival. In the field of film arranging and composing, he has done work for The Thomas Crown AffairMuppets from SpaceDown to EarthHarriet the SpyClockstoppers, and The Rugrats Movie. Along with Mamak Khadem, he has served as arranger and producer for Tibetan vocalist Yungchen Lhamo and the fusion band Mo Boma. His own CD A Prayer for the Soul of Layla was named Best Contemporary World Music Album at the New Age Voice Music Awards. In 2006, he conducted the orchestra for Dream Theater's 20th Anniversary World Tour at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Hamed Saidi, santur and vocals, studied the Persian classical repertoire (radif) and santur under Madjid Kiani and earned his music degree at the Iranian Academy of the Arts. He has since performed in Greece, Ireland, Germany, Turkey, and the United States. He has also composed music for more than 30 films, television programs, and dance and theatrical presentations, including Javdanegi by Farshad Fereshtehekmat, Afsaneh Saheleh Tareek by Reza Davari, Letters from Tentland by Helena Waldman, and the dance production Avazhick at the Theatre Shahr in Tehran. His works have received awards at the Beirut Film Festival, the Iran Television Festival, and the Society of Critics of Theater in Iran. He tours regularly with Mamak Khadem and can be heard on her CD Jostojoo/Forever Seeking.

Ole Mathisen, clarinet and saxophones, earned his bachelor's degree from the Berklee College of Music and his master's degree in jazz performance from the Manhattan School of Music. In addition to his performing career, he is an active film and TV composer, record producer, and arranger. He performs widely in the New York jazz scene and is in high demand as a studio musician, appearing on more than 80 recordings. His interests encompass classical, jazz, electronic, ethnic, and experimental music. He has conducted jazz clinics and given private lessons in Japan, Norway, Sweden, France, Germany, and Canada. He leads the group Anomaly, and is a member of SYOTOS, Afromantra, and NYNDK. He has recorded and performed with Badal Roy, William Kennedy, Steve Smith, Eddie Gomez, Rufus Reid, Ron Carter, Grady Tate, LaVerne Baker, Randy Brecker, Michael Gibbs, Harvie Swartz, Bill Bruford, Kenny Barron, and Bob Moses, among many others. He is on the music faculty of Columbia University.

Ben Wittman, percussion, tours regularly in Europe, the UK, Asia, and South America, with an eclectic roster of artists including Don Byron, Laurie Anderson, Erasure, Solas, Keiko Lee, Jiro Yoshida, Yungchen Lhamo, and the New York Voices. In high school, he studied drums with jazz greats Milfred Graves and Freddie Waits. He earned his bachelor's degree in jazz performance at the New England Conservatory of Music, playing on the side with Bob Moses, Mike Methany, Bruce Bartlett, Duke Levine, Ruthie Ristich, Brad Hatfield, and African percussionist and ethnomusicologist David Locke. He made a two-month musical tour of Ghana in 1984. He was a long-time collaborator with Spanish vocalist Olga Roman, performing Brazilian music. In 1993, he provided Cuban rhythms for a recording project with jazz clarinet great Don Byron. Since then, he has performed and recorded with such artists as Paul Simon, Laurie Anderson, Jonatha Brooke, and Rosanne Cash.

Arts of the Islamic World at the Freer|Sackler

The Freer and Sackler Galleries hold one of the finest collections of Islamic art in the United States, with particular strengths in ceramics and illustrated manuscripts. Highlights of the collection include an important collection of ceramics from the 9th–13th century, representing a variety of shapes, techniques, and designs, primarily from Iran and the Arab world; and Egyptian and Syrian metalwork from the 13th century, including two of the most important examples decorated with Christian imagery. Also featured are a collection of 9th–19th-century Korans (intact volumes and detached folios) from Iran, the Arab world, and Turkey; a distinguished collection of illustrated and illuminated manuscripts from Iran and the Arab world, including the Divan (Collected poems) of Sultan Ahmad Jalayir, ca. 1400; Haft Awrang (Seven Thrones) by Jami, dated 1556–66; and the largest number of illustrations from the 14th-century Mongol Shahnama(Book of Kings), one of the most important texts of the Islamic world.


The concert presented in this podcast was made possible, in part, through the generous support of Mr. and Mrs. Farhad Ebrahimi.

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