The Beautiful Ferocity of Mohsen Namjoo – A Review of His Show at The Irvine Barclay Theatre

The Beautiful Ferocity of Mohsen Namjoo – A Review of His Show at The Irvine Barclay Theatre

The provocative voice of Mohsen Namjoo channels a complex array of musical styles. He is, on one hand, a classically trained Iranian musician weaving intricate and timeless melodies; and, on the other hand, he is a kind of post-modern blues man of The Middle East, grunting and growling through songs with wild abandon.

Namjoo’s recent show at the UC Irvine Barclay Theatre on April 15 highlighted his exemplary skills. It was mainly a solo set that showcased both Namjoo’s songwriting and his storytelling, but Percussionist Ali Bazyar added a trance-like quality to Namjoo’s set. Though initially struggling slightly to lock into Namjoo’s groove, once Bazyar found it, his beats served Namjoo’s songs very well.

There is an undercurrent of contempt and anger in Namjoo’s music, directed at the authoritarian rule that still strangles his homeland of Iran. No longer allowed into Iran after being accused of blasphemy after quoting the Quran in one of his songs, using the lines to illustrate the frequent hypocrisy of the clerical authority in Iran. In this sense, Namjoo’s music is a genuine conduit of the Folk tradition. When he sang his famous song, ‘Dah-e-Shast (The Eighties),’ one felt enveloped by the narrative, political sweep of the song (Thankfully, I had a translator well-versed with the song to provide insight). The political overtones and angst of the song were balanced by Namjoo’s ardent melodies. This juxtaposition of lyric and melody was remarkable, to say the least.

The New York Times once compared Namjoo to Bob Dylan. I somewhat disagree. His avant-garde style of music and songwriting seems much more in league with the likes of Tom Waits or even a folk version of Frank Zappa: He is at once dark and morose, whimsical and sarcastic.

What I find most compelling about Mohsen Namjoo is his refusal to cater to anyone’s expectations. His creative approach is wholly his own. It’s a manifestation of angst and longing. There is nothing derivative about his music. Though he is clearly influenced by both Eastern and Western musical traditions, it is nearly impossible to delineate between the two in most of his songs. And, yet, this novel sound is not the result of a need to be clever, but of a genuine need to sing and be heard and that is, in and of itself, a kind of genius.

By Kashif Ghazanfar, Aslan Media Contributor
Photos courtesy of Arash Mozaffari
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