The Kamkars are one of the most dynamic yet accessible ensembles in Middle Eastern music. They fuse elements from their Kurdish folk music heritage with conventions from Persian classical music, using instruments from both. At nine musicians they are large enough to constitute an orchestra, by the standards of their region, and they are unusual in that their music usually adaptations of Kurdish love songs with a few lullabies and patriotic songs thrown in - is composed all the way through. This means there are no interludes where most of the ensemble stops playing while one or two members engage in a long improvisation. The result is compact, dramatic songs, commonly between four and eight minutes, that are structurally reminiscent of Western classical music, with beginnings, climaxes and endings that Western ears can readily appreciate. The Kamkars is a family ensemble, consisting of seven brothers, one sister, and her son from Samandaj, in northwest Iran. The eight siblings received their first musical training from their father Hassan Kamkar (1923-1991), a multi-instrumentalist, composer, collector of folk music and teacher. Hooshang (b. 1947) is the musical director and studied music in Rome and San Francisco. Bijan (b. 1949) is the lead vocalist and usually plays the daf, which is the large frame drum of the Kurds. Thanks to Bijan's efforts, the daf is now widely used in Persian music. Pashang (b. 1951) plays the santur, which is the Persian hammer dulcimer, and conducts the group in concert. Ghashang (b. 1953), the one woman in the ensemble, plays the setar, which is a long-necked lute. Arjang (b. 1956) plays the small drum known as the tombak. Arsalan (b. 1960) plays the oud (the precursor to the lute ubiquitous in the Muslim world), was first violin in the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, and like most of his brothers, is a composer in his own right. Ardeshir (b. 1962) plays the kamancheh or spike fiddle. Ardavan (b. 1968), like Pashang, plays the santur, for which he has developed a new technique, based in part on the piano, and which he has demonstrated in numerous original pieces. The youngest member of the ensemble is Omid Lotfi (b. 1977), who is the son of Ghashang Kamkar and her husband, the great Persian musician, Mohammad Reza Lotfi. Omid plays the tar, which is a Persian lute. Because of distance and diplomatic problems, much of the Kamkars' music is difficult to obtain in the West. They released one album each with Long Distance Records and RealWorld before signing with Kereshmeh Records, a California-based specialist in Persian music. In 1999 they released on Kereshmeh not only a collection of songs in their customary style called Kani Sepi, but an album of music composed by Hooshang Kamkar called Chant of Drums devoted to an exploration of the heavilyrhythmic dervish music of the Sufis. Also in 1999 the group went on its first American tour.
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