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Ostad Elahi’s Revolutionary Impact on the Tanbur

Ostad Elahi and the Tanbur

The renowned spiritual master Ostad Elahi was born and raised in a traditional village. He absorbed the pure spirituality that permeated his environment.

But the ethical principles he advanced went far beyond the limits of this spiritual ethos. These principles were supported by a complete system of thought, in which the right of every spirit to realise itself is at the center.

The tanbur

The tanbur is an instrument that has evolved through the centuries in the Khorasan region (northeast Iran, western Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). Its narrow pear-shaped body features seven to ten glued together separate ribs with a soundboard of mulberry wood containing patterned holes. Its long neck has three metal strings with the first string doubled.

The playing technique of the tanbur is complex and requires a special combination of finger movements on both hands that produce a rolling motion called shorr. Ostad Elahi revolutionized the tanbur by adding a third string, developing a new playing technique with the fingers of both hands and introducing a new resonance tuning.

He also compiled an extensive repertoire of traditional tanbur melodies that were previously reserved for devotional music. His mastery of these melodies enabled him to transform their spiritual meaning. He used his improvisational music to accentuate storytelling, enhance meditative practices and address difficult social problems. His profound impact embodies the spirit of the tanbur and exemplifies the role of music in the Kurdish quest for self-knowledge.

The tanbour’s music

Throughout history, music has been an essential part of spiritual practices. The tanbour is one of the most ancient and versatile instruments in this tradition, and its music can be both mystical and epic.

The tanbour has a pear-shaped body and a long neck with thirteen frets tied on it. It has front and side tuning keys, as well as a headstock. The instrument is made from mulberry wood and strung with cat or cow guts.

Kourosh Moradi is a master tanbour player, daf player, and tombak player who learned tanbour with his father Aliakbar Moradi and has shared his expertise in concerts and workshops around the world. His family has been practicing and sharing tanbur for generations.

In Yarsan philosophy, Tanbour and Mugham are placed alongside each other like spirit and body. This is a reflection of the continuity of Kalaam, as man though surfing in different garments is unchanging in his spiritual essence.

The tanbour’s history

The tanbour is one of the most ancient Persian musical instruments. It is mentioned in Iranian old manuscripts. The name of this instrument is derived from its shape, which is similar to the belly of a whale or a turtle. It has two strings and is played with the right hand.

OE considered music the highest form of worship and used it as a medium for spiritual reflection. He always emphasized that a true musician must play with divine intention, without any external points of reference. Therefore, he never performed in public or made professional recordings of his music.

This CD includes 2 unique improvisations that invite the listener to join in celestial dances toward the Source of Creation. Also, it contains a beautiful handbook and listening logs. The booklet gives short overviews of OE’s philosophy, why ABT became interested in co-producing this program and provides some basic understanding of auditory stimulation and the impact of the mind on sound.

The tanbour’s repertoire

As a deeply religious man, Ostad Elahi considered music above all a means of reflection and contemplation. He rarely played in public or made professional recordings of his music, and he often stated: “If it is played with a divine intention, then the sound of this instrument will be the link that will connect us to the Source.”

His complex playing technique (which involved strumming multiple strings at once, using all fingers except for the thumb) as well as a repertoire of modal and maqam-based melodies earned him a reputation among Kurdish/Iranian musicians as an innovator of this ancient instrument.

Arash Moradi and his son Kourosh, both tanbur players, join together in this program to carry on the family legacy. In addition to their mastery of the tanbur, they share their passion for Persian and Kurdish poetry through improvisational performance. Aman, Sad Aman is a beautiful example of the tanbur’s ability to translate words and emotion through its sound.

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