Woven Verses

About the Project

WOVEN VERSES: Poetic Resistance & Resilience is a commission by Freight & Salvage in collaboration with Iranian vocalist Mahsa Vahdat, made possible by the 2021 Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions. This song cycle is set to historical and contemporary Persian classical text with themes encompassing separation, longing, isolation, hope, adaptation, belonging, connection, and communion. These themes are deeply connected to Mahsa’s personal experiences as a banned artist who has struggled for years to preserve the rich musical lineage of her beloved Iranian homeland – where musical practice and performance, especially by females, continues to be severely restricted by fundamentalist authorities.

Presented over two nights, Woven Verses will pose fundamental human questions as the past meets the present. The compositions will be rooted in regional Persian music’s complex system of modes, rhythm, meter, and ornamentation used to create organic, layered, and seamless dialogue between vocals and instrumentation.

Vocalists Mahsa Vahdat and her sister Marjan Vahdat were forced to finally leave their Iranian home in 2017 as they faced extreme persecution (including a harsh prison sentence) for their artistic activities. Woven Verses will pay tribute to the music and poetry that continues to exist within and among Persian people, but cannot be heard unfettered. The new works will also reflect a complex, bittersweet sense of homeland that never leaves the soul of a person forced to live in exile.

For centuries, the expression of Persian music was mostly dominated by men because of their public visibility and lack of political and cultural restrictions. Masculine cultural representations even affected the expression of some traditional female vocalists who had the tendency to imitate male vocalists, consciously or unconsciously.

In Mahsa’s words, “My desire is to contribute to the empowerment of women by encouraging them to give voice to their life experiences. I think of my voice as a vehicle to summon resilience, transparency, strength, and liberation. Singing is my form of civil disobedience. I believe raising one’s voice can transform feelings of alienation, anxiety, and exclusion; and can summon joy and hope. I hope that singing about my experiences can inspire change in women (and men) everywhere, because suppression of authentic female expression remains a problem not only in Iran, but also worldwide.”

Created with funding from a Hewlett Foundation 50 Arts Commission.

The collaborating artists for the Woven Verses project are:

Naseem Alatrash: cello
David Balakrishnan: violin
Diedre Charlene: visual artist
Ara Dinkjian: oud
Greg Ellis: percussion
Atabak Elyasi: arranger
Tamer Pinarbasi: qanoon


About Marjan and Mahsa Vahdat

Marjan and Mahsa Vahdat

Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat are acclaimed Iranian Classical singers, musicians, and composers based in California. With their enchanting voices and deep-rooted connection to their Iranian heritage, they have fearlessly defied bans on music and solo female singers imposed by Iranian authorities following the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Beyond their musical achievements, Mahsa and Marjan are passionate vocal educators and champions for women’s rights and social justice. Their work empowers women by encouraging them to raise their voices. Mahsa and Marjan are role models for many young Iranian women singers in the complex socio-political environment of contemporary Iran and in Diaspora communities.

Their performances and recording projects include collaborations with many of the world’s most acclaimed musicians, including U.S. blues singer Mighty Sam McClain, the Kronos Quartet, Tord Gustavson, Teatr Zar, SKRUK Choir, Atabak Elyasi, and Bridget Kibbey.