Of the many talented younger players from the Iranian classical music scene, this player of the tombak and other traditional instruments has made the most widespread inroads on the Western music scene, although the rewards of that may be questioned when they include soundtrack appearances on such Hollywood duds as Geronimo or Last Man Standing. The farthest thing artistically from a bad commercial film is the musical environment this artist came out of, the brilliant world of Iranian dastgah. Like the Indian raga to which it is related, compositions in this genre are based on various modal systems, which the performers extrapolate at great length, building up to high speed chases that are the dream of every percussionist. The instrument played by Madjid Khaladj is known as a tombak in Iran, a dombak in Turkey, and has an Irish relative in the bhodran. Khaladj began studying the instrument at the age of seven, the initial pounding and banging of a youth leading to a brilliant career as a traditional musician, pedagogue, composer, and lecturer. He has mastered an entire family of Iranian percussion instruments, including the daf, which might sound like some kind of British insult but is actually considered a mystical drum. The musical adventures of Khaladj have led to collaborations with the traditional Armenian vocal group Kotchnak, as well as the laid-back California recording scene of world music wannabe Ry Cooder. The Iranian also went far from his roots when he recorded an album entitled Chopin, Impressions with pianist Leszek Mozdzer and the results of this collaboration can only be described as fascinating.
Khaladj has moved well beyond what is sometimes seen as the drummer's traditional role in the background to lead numerous activities on the international scene, including festivals, concerts, and recordings. Since 1984, he has taught the percussion traditions of his country at the Center for Study of Oriental Musics in the Institute of Musicology of Paris-Sorbonne. In 1996, he founded the College of Tombak, a center of Iranian percussion study, in Paris. Since 1999, he has been invited to teach at the Music Academy of Basel in Switzerland. An astounding part of this performer is his extensive solo improvisation repertory. As for the many master Iranian musicians who call upon him for percussion support, most would agree that he has few rivals in terms of either instrumental sound or accurate rendition of such a wide variety of traditional rhythmic patterns. His regular playing partners have included tar virtuosos Dariush Talâ'i and Hossein Alizâdeh and ney master Hossein Omoumi.