Galeet Dardashti Commission and Tour: September 2011
For the New Jewish Culture Network’s inaugural season the Foundation for Jewish Culture and its league of performing arts presenters commissioned Monajat (Fervent Prayer), a multimedia concert by composer, singer, and scholar Galeet Dardashti which toured the United States in September 2011. The New Jewish Culture Network, an initiative to create and deliver outstanding Jewish music and other art forms to audiences in the U.S. and beyond.
The six-city Monajat tour included the following presenters:
- Next@19th in Miami | September 3, 2011, 9 pm
- The JCC in Manhattan co-sponsored by B’nai Jeshurun | September 10, 2011, 9:00 pm
- Boston Jewish Music Festival and New Center for Arts and Culture at Granoff Music Center, Tufts University | September 15, 2011, 8 pm
- The JCC of Houston | September 18, 2011, 7 pm
- The Hub of the JCC of San Francisco | September 24, 2011, 8 pm
- Grand Performances in Los Angeles | September 25, 2011, 8 pm
Monajat was inspired by Selihot, the poetic prayers of forgiveness recited during the month preceding the Jewish High Holidays according to Middle Eastern tradition. This period of deep reflection and spiritual preparation serves as a backdrop for Dardashti’s time-specific concert and program. The first-time U.S. presentation of Monajat combines participatory workshops, talks, prayer services, and other educational programs to enhance the spiritual and cultural experience. Dardashti, a performer and anthropologist of Iranian descent, re-imagined the Selihot ritual in collaboration with an acclaimed ensemble of Jewish and Muslim musicians, an electronic soundscape, and dynamic video projections by video artist and designer Dmitry Kmelnitsky.
Dardashti’s acclaimed ensemble of musicians included Omer Avital (oud, bass, vocals), Amir ElSaffar (santour, vocals), Tal Ronen (bass, vocals) and Dafer Tawil (percussion, violin, ney, oud, vocals).
Monajat is a Persian word meaning an intimate dialogue with the Divine. Using Persian melodies and Hebrew texts, the work pays homage to Galeet Dardashti’s grandfather Yona Dardashti, one of the most renowned singers of avaz (Persian classical music) from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s. In addition to his illustrious performing career, one of his passions was to chant services as a cantor for several synagogues in Tehran. Galeet Dardashti’s Monajat explores a personal history, and, more broadly, Jewish culture in the Islamic world.
When reciting the Selihot prayers in Hebrew, Galeet Dardashti’s grandfather closed the synagogue service with “Monajat,” a Persian poem attributed to the 13th-century Sufi mystic Rumi. Yona Dardashti was an innovator who incorporated non-liturgical texts such as “Monajat” into religious prayer. The poem urges listeners to shake off slumber and offer praise: “Every morning, at dawn, the roosters crow in prayer/How would you know it if you were still asleep?/Only those who are awake know this secret…” Because the Selihot prayers coincided with the Islamic muezzin’s first call to prayer in Iran, the “Monajat” poem fit the mood of the service beautifully. For this new commission, Dardashti continues her grandfather’s legacy of experimentation. She performs some of the Persian piyutim traditionally chanted by men as part of the Selihot service, as well as other liturgical and secular Hebrew and Persian poetry set to new music. An electronic soundscape weaves her live performance with recordings of her grandfather and other audio material. Dardashti’s acclaimed ensemble of musicians includes Omer Avital (oud and bass), Yohai Cohen (percussion and vocals), and Amir ElSaffar (santour and vocals).
Residency and Educational Programs
In addition to her concerts, Dardashti participated as an artist/scholar-in-residence in each city, offering experiential workshops and lecture-demos or leading synagogue services. Each concert served as a hub for a variety of activities both onsite and offsite in collaboration with other local cultural organizations and educational institutions such as the Rothko Chapel in Houston, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, and Tufts University in Boston. These interpretative programs provided context for piyutim, explaining their history and cultural significance for Jews in Muslim lands.
The New Jewish Culture Network has received major support from the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Milken Family Foundation, Sylvia M. Neil, and other individual donors. Wardrobe for the Monajat tour has been generously provided by Elie Tahari.