(c) Ina Aydogan

Golnar Shahyar

Music & Human Rights

The Iranian/Canadian vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Golnar Shahyar is the coordinator of the thematic focus “Music & Human Rights”.

In 2008, she settled in Vienna and began studying voice and guitar at the University of Music and Performing Arts. Her timing was auspicious: a generational change was gathering strength on the music scene. The stubbornly traditionalist mindset that had held sway for decades was beginning to crumble, gradually giving way to an increased interest in experimentation and transcending old boundaries, both aesthetic and cultural. Many musicians were increasingly questioning the contrived distinctions between “serious” and “popular” music, as well as the Eurocentricity received from previous generations.

Golnar’s musical aspirations found fertile soil in these circles, as did her passion for social justice in all its forms. She quickly made a name for herself in Vienna, and today she is widely known as one of the most accomplished vocal artists in European contemporary and improvised music, as well as a composer and producer of her own music and a collaborator in dance, theater projects and opera productions.

Her work – with groups like Choub, Gabbeh, and the Golnar & Mahan Trio, and as a solo artist under the name GolNar – is an extraordinary prism of languages and styles, drawing equally from the traditions of Western Asia and North Africa and from the contemporary music of Europe and the Americas. There is no meaningful division between her music and the social themes it addresses; she came of age in a culture where women, for decades, have fought for a public voice. Add to that the status of an outsider in Western Europe, representing a culture often viewed with mistrust and misunderstanding, and music-making in itself becomes a political act.

Still, attempting to meld politics and art is risky: if music is to carry a political message, it must be of the very highest quality, be able to stand on its own. Fortunately, all of the above facts – as interesting as they are – pale next to Golnar’s supreme musicianship. Her voice is an exquisitely honed instrument, evocative and astonishingly flexible. Golnar’s music creates a landscape of emotion and narrative, informed by tradition and yet completely her own. Many of her songs bear the weight of tragedy: of war, repression, the personal struggles that we all share…yet for all that, there is nothing negative about her music. She is gracious and open, on stage and in life, and even the darkest, most tragic stories are delivered with an underlying sense of release: as if she is purging herself, and us, of the darkness, so that we might look toward the light and right the wrongs of which she sings.

(Bio by Philip Yaeger)

Golnar’s website: http://www.golnarshahyar.com/index.php


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