Learn­ing to taste the sound of mu­sic

Viet Nam News - - Expat Corner -

CHARL­TON PARK, Eng­land -— In their na­tive Iran, Mahsa and Mar­jan Vah­dat are best known for their soar­ing voices, flaw­less har­monies and ded­i­ca­tion to the art of sing­ing in the face of tough re­stric­tions on pub­lic per­for­mances by women.

But on a Sun­day morn­ing last week­end in the Wilt­shire re­gion of south­west­ern Eng­land, Mahsa’s chief pre­oc­cu­pa­tion was the cor­rect sourc­ing of dried plums.

“These are from eastern Iran, from a vil­lage near the desert, ” she told host Roger de Wolf and the as­sem­bled crowd at Taste the World stage at Wo­mad, a fes­ti­val of tra­di­tional mu­sic and dance, as she un­wrapped the fruit, brought with her from the Mid­dle East.

“ They ’ re sourer than oth­ers. ” Around her, sis­ter Mar­jan as­sem­bled lemon pow­der, turmeric and saf­fron for the chicken dish they were cook­ing, while in the back­ground, the stage ’ s sous- chef and kitchen as­sis­tants sup­plied saucepans, chicken and rice.

Within a few moments, the sis­ters had bro­ken off from the recipe to demon­strate the tal­ent that brought them from Tehran, with a ren­di­tion of their fu­sion- edged Ira­nian song for the as­sem­bled crowd. Shortly af­ter that, the meal they had pre­pared was dis­trib­uted to the same au­di­ence, so they could taste, as well as hear, a lit­tle of Ira­nian cul­ture.

This com­bi­na­tion of food and song is the cul­mi­na­tion of an idea dreamed up by one of the fes­ti­val ’ s or­gan­is­ers Annie Men­ter, who set up the Taste the World stage at Wo­mad (the acro­nym stands for World of Mu­sic and Dance) eight years ago.

Men­ter, who had long been in­volved with the fes­ti­val in its var­i­ous in­car­na­tions around the globe, had seen how the mu­si­cians she trav­elled with sought out their na­tional dishes on tour, as a lit­tle taste of home.

“If you’re away from home and fam­ily, what con­nects you back to those is food, ” Men­ter said. “ It's a com­fort thing. If you're ’ feel­ing lonely or out on a limb, even a bowl of rice that ’ s tra­di­tional for you in­stantly raises your spir­its. ”

Mu­si­cal tastes

She be­gan ask­ing mu­si­cians if they would be pre­pared to cook a dish from their home coun­try while be­ing in­ter­viewed be­fore the Wo­mad crowd, pep­per­ing the process with songs.

Given Wo­mad’s fo­cus on bring­ing to­gether mu­sic from around the world – acts this year have hailed from as far afield as Rwanda, Cuba, Ar­me­nia and Wales – the re­sult has been eclec­tic, to say the least.

This year New Zealand- based reg­gae- soul col­lec­tive Fat Freddy ’ s Drop knocked up a seafood ce­viche; Swe­den’s Lin­nea Olsen pro­duced dumplings with chanterelles and lin­gonber­ries; and Cyprus ’ s Mon­sieur Do­mani pre­pared a tra­di­tional meat stew that was mar­i­nated by the Taste the World team overnight.

From a strictly culi­nary per­spec­tive, the ex­per­i­ment has not al­ways re­sulted in Miche­lin- stan­dard re­sults, Men­ter said, but that was not the point. Its suc­cess has been in bring­ing another di­men­sion to the fes­ti­val by broad­en­ing out its pre­sen­ta­tion of the dif­fer­ent cul­tures rep­re­sented be­yond just mu­sic.

It has also al­lowed the crowd to see a wholly dif­fer­ent as­pect of these mu­si­cians. Host de Wolf in­vited ques­tions from the au­di­ence through­out the in­ter­view with the Ira­ni­ans, and they came thick and fast, on food and cul­ture as well as mu­sic.

“ I love the fact that it ’ s so in­ti­mate,” said Karen Chap­man from north Lon­don, who works in film fi­nance. “ You re­ally get to hear the story be­hind the artist and their cul­ture, through mu­sic and through food. ”

From the small tent it oc­cu­pied on the edge of the fes­ti­val in 2006, the Taste the World event has grown con­sid­er­ably.

Men­ter says she ’ d be happy for it not to ex­pand any fur­ther, but she ’ s clearly de­lighted with what ’ s been achieved.

“ The ra­tio­nale for me was, what ’ s life about? ” she says.

“ Mu­sic, food, con­ver­sa­tion. This is an ex­ten­sion of sit­ting around your kitchen ta­ble and cook­ing for friends.

“In that sit­u­a­tion, you want to share your food, but you also want to share your con­ver­sa­tion, your opin­ions, your ideas, your cul­ture. That ’ s what ’ s im­por­tant.” —

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