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Lou Fancher on April 25, 2021



The music of Iranian-American composer Sahba Aminikia is analogous to water. Variably complex or simple, it flows in gentle, naturally syncopated rhythms and structures reminiscent of light rain falling amid sunshine on a rooftop in one work, while another piece’s metronomic regularity is like a steadily dripping faucet. A third piece arrives fully orchestrated with the torrential swoosh of a downpour.

Bearing the imprint of his classical music training and vastly diverse source material — Persian poetry and traditional music, European and Western classical music, jazz, the music of Pink Floyd, Beatles, Queen, and many other contemporary and world music ensembles — overall the San Francisco-based musician’s work serves up a baseline elixir infused with multiple flavors. Lately, his compositional output includes works featuring crowd-sourced human voices obtained through social media. These works transform the sound of young voices reproducing bird calls or the (forbidden) singing of Iranian women or the chanting of the name of a political prisoner into nearly overwhelming tsunamis of pain and wave-like declarations of liberation and beauty.

Aminikia’s music has been widely performed and he has had a long and productive relationship with the Kronos Quartet. During a conversation about composing, the talk turns to the Flying Carpet Children Music Festival of which he is founder/director. In a comment that might surprise his followers, he says, “I can see myself giving up music one day, but I can’t see myself giving up the children I work with. My life energy is inspired by the energy of those children. It keeps me going. It’s such powerful emotion and force that children carry.”


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When Iranian American composer Sahba Aminikia was 19, he left Iran for Russia to study at the St. Petersburg State Conservatory under Boris Ivanovich Tishchenko, a former student of the famous classical music composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

Aminikia says he admires Shostakovich so much that he was inspired to go into classical music.


“He also lived under a very totalitarian government there, and that effect is very much evident in his music,” Aminikia said. “That is the music that comes from pain.”

In 2006, Aminikia immigrated to the US as a refugee and began studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. But even as he launched his career in America, his music was often focused on Iran.


Aminikia wrote music about the little things he missed about the country where he was born. He also wrote about the protests that were happening in Tehran following the election in 2009 and experimented with incorporating the actual sounds of mourning and uprising into his tracks.


Related: Four musicians grapple with the same question: What is home?

Aminikia had to choose between his passion for music and his homeland. He left Iran due to religious persecution related to his Baha'i faith.


The religion, founded in 1844 in Iran, teaches the oneness of all world religions — it focuses on advocating for racial unity, gender equality, universal education and harmony of science and religion.


The Islamic Revolution of 1979 overthrew the US-backed regime of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and replaced it with an Islamic republic led by Ayatollah Khomeini. Under the new regime, Baha'i believers could not practice their faith in public, hold government jobs, collect pensions or attend higher education.


Aminikia’s father and other former professors founded the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education, BIHE, an alternative university that operates out of people’s homes to provide educational opportunities to Baha'i believers. It was at BIHE where Aminikia obtained his associate degree in music.


Aminikia has built a successful life around music and art, but he has had an unhappy relationship with his country. Aminikia’s latest collaboration with the Kronos Quartet is called "Nasrin Dream," inspired by the story of imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.





Aminikia believes that suffering can inspire true art.

That's why music exists, Aminikia said, adding, “It's a natural, organic response that our body has to this pain. The music that speaks to the soul comes from the soul. And the soul that is full of pain, it would always sound better. And we know that deep down as musicians."

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Dear Friends,


Today is the 31st day of Nasrin Sotoudeh’s hunger strike.​I and acclaimed Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet, are working on a new piece named: ​“Nasrin’s Dream”​A piece dedicated to Nasrin Sotoudeh, the acclaimed human rights lawyer who has been unjustly sentenced to 33 years of prison and 148 lashes in Iran. She is currently placed in solitary confinement while on a hunger strike since May. Iranian authorities have denied her access to her lawyer and Iranian prisons are infested with the Covid-19 virus. This veteran of a 40-year-long fight for human rights and women rights in Iran is in danger along with several political prisoners in Iran. This is the second time in less than six months that Sotoudeh has gone on a hunger strike to demand Iran’s political detainees' release during the global pandemic. Let's tell her that we haven't forgotten her courageous acts, by saying and shouting her name, over and over again, like a magic spell, thousands, and thousands of times until the end of eternity.What we need from you is just your voice! Literally! Say, shout, or scream her name: "NAS-REEN SO-TOU-DEH"record it on your phone with NO background noise and upload it here:


CLICK HERE

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