Archive for October, 2008

Bumpy roads

October 28, 2008

Just a short post. We are in Pakistan now.. A completely different world. There is no time for music (though I watched some nice Pakistani music on the hotel television last night) for we’re trying to cross the country fast. I have seen beautiful images; people, houses, nature but all from my car seat. 


Most of the time we are being escorted by armed policemen. It started in Iran when we reached the Iranian/Pakistan border with all 8 cars and entered Baluchistan. I must admit it felt strange to see guns and machine guns, but now after three days I’m getting ‘used’ to it. Is Pakistan unsafe? I don’t know really. There are armed checkpoints everywhere where all Western travellers must sign their names and receive almost constant escorte. Yesterday Bert and I left Quetta (I just read on the internet there was a bomb attack there that same day) and headed to the city of Sukkur at the river Indus. We drove 9 hours in a row, with a new armed military vehicle assisting us every 20 kilometres, all over very bumpy roads. A beautiful sight by daylight was the crossing of the Bolan pass. Driving in the dark through the steamy, tropic area with lots of unilluminated vehicles and donkeys, along the road we met with friendly inspector Abdul who helped us with finding a hotel. Here, in Sukkur we are in a hotel with constant armed protection. When Bert went into town earlier this morning he was obligatory escorted by four armed policemen. Like he was some very important person…


Going underground

October 24, 2008
We have crossed a large part of Iran and have just left the small desert village where we stayed for a few days. The houses there were made of yellow mud and earth in beautiful round shapes. It was my first time ever in the desert and this place was a real oasis..and felt like home. Yesterday evening we recorded Richard Thompson’s “Waltzing for Dreamers” in an old Karavanserai under the starry sky.

By now we have given three concerts in Iran. The first in the safety of the residency of the ambassador in Teheran for a mixed Dutch/Iranian company. This was a very special gathering since people hardly ever have the chance to visit a concert and never get to hear a women’s voice in public. I received such warm response was a joy to play there. The people were very open to the music and it was nice to find out that audiences are the same everywhere (and this has been my experience in general while travelling through Iran. For contradictory to what some might think it is very safe here and the people are very, very friendly..).
We also gave a small concert for sick children and nurses at Mahak Hospital in Teheran, where I was allowed to sing in public, which we were told is very special and unique for Iran. Finally we gave another precious concert..underground. And this was real underground music for even though the concert was private, the Iranian musicians involved were scared and a lot of precautions were taken.. We were brought to a secret location, with a secret password and all and gave a concert  for a very sympathetic Iranian audience. It was a very good experience. Unfortunately Hans was ill that evening so we don’t have any film recordings.

( It has been hard finding a good internet connection the last few weeks. While I am posting this we are in east Iran and will cross the Pakistan border tomorrow. I will write more as soon as I can..)

 Our earlier encounter with the instrument builder in Qazvin
Special moments during the recording with the instrument builder in Qazvin

Bert playing together with some excellent Iranian musicians
Bert playing with two excellent Iranian musicians

 tuning (with another excellent Iranian musician)

Tuning with another excellent musician

As a female singer in Iran

October 15, 2008


Bert and I are in Teheran now. A huge city where the air conditions are quite unpleasant for a singer, but that was more than put to balance by the very enthusiastic listening audience that we encountered last night during our concert at the residency of Dutch ambassador Radinck van Vollenhoven. As a woman I could walk around freely there without the scarf and I even forgot to put it back on when I left the residency. It is so very natural for me to do without. And as Eliza, a Dutch woman living in Iran (she arranged the event for us) pointed it out, “you need to feel the wind in your hair”. I’ll write more about it all later.



blending in with Iranian women


As we were told before our journey, in Iran women are not allowed to sing in public. The female voice is considered too seductive. As a singer of according to Dutch criteria, quite innocent songs, this is an unusual experience for me. Breaking the rules can be dangerous, especially for Iranians. But at the same time there’s some flexibility and sometimes things are possible. Also there often is a gap between the official view of the government and what people think and feel.


In Qazvin, the town where we stayed before Teheran, Bert was allowed to give a solo concert in a small theatre for a group of children on Saturday.  They forgot to inform us until half an hour before, so Bert rushed over there with his instruments and gave a concert out the blue. The children liked it and he received a little note with some words in English: ‘We love your music. Can you play one more fast song?’.


Then the next morning we had a very special experience when visiting a builder of ancient Persian instruments, who is subsidised by the Iranian government. (This was the second instrument builder that I’ve met this year; see the post about Roger Bucknall) His working space was a giant cellar; an old water reservoir now being used for instrument building. It were gorgeous instruments, made with love and care; old instruments with a history of about 5000 to 6000 years. The zithar, beautiful flutes and the chang; a very precious harp like instrument in the shape of a swan with a pure, unearthly sound.

Seyf Ollah Shokri as the builder was called also appeared to be an excellent player. Together with his friend Seyed Kama Reza he started playing refined and hypnotizing tunes for us, full of feeling. And he sang, with a beautiful gentle voice. Bert was asked to play on the zithar and later took out his cittern that was thoroughly ‘inspected’. Then the three of them started playing together. Via our guide Zina..I was asked to sit closer..and later…to my surprise invited to sing! I freed my ear a bit from the scarf and started singing ‘The snows they melt the soonest’, while the zithar player joined in with initially harsh dissonant tones (the Iranian melodic system is so different from ours). The builder started playing his flute with the sound of a woman’s voice and as the song continued it all came together in a beautiful atmosphere. The instrument builder gave me a special sheeps tooth (an interesting present…) that will now travel with me. Hans has made some brilliant shots.


Recording the cittern in Iran

October 12, 2008

We’re in Iran..crossed the border on Wednesday!

welcome to Iran - the border

welcome to Iran - the border


I was ill for a while..a terrible cold. So Bert and I took some rest and split up with the other 7 cars to find some peace in a hotel in Khoy (meaning: Salt). Now I’m feeling better and I’m really looking forward to our concert in Teheran at the Dutch Embassy the day after tomorrow.


While I was staying in bed in my hotel room in Khoy, Bert was wandering the streets, looking for food, a place to change internet café..He was often addressed by kind, curious Iranians. Where is he from? Can they have their picture taken with us? We are a rarity here.

On Friday most shops and services are closed, for it’s the Iranian weekend. Bert was asking around a lot and was being helped everywhere.  A very helpful, friendly man at a telephone shop asked him about the attitudes towards Muslims in Holland. Do we dislike them? He’d heard that on the news. Bert assured him that’s not the case, that we have mosques and all. But at that same moment I was thinking about it in my hotel bed..about the problem of the few populist politicians in Holland that do promote this attitude..


Bert with cittern on the old church wall

Bert with cittern on the old church wall


After we’d crossed the Iranian border on Wednesday, all 8 cars headed for Quara Kelisa, a church  that lies 60 kilometres off the border. The sun was about to go down as we arrived at the site of the impressive ancient Armenian building that was of the same colour as its surrounding mountains. It was a cloudless, starry night and no one was there apart from a few people watching over the church. We were allowed to camp in the church garden.

The place had an awesome presence; silent and abandoned (but still in use..once a year, when thousands of Armenians gather there. On the church grounds I could do without the veil  which shows there is more flexibility in Iran than you might have thought at first glance). Bert dug his Fylde cittern out of the car and gave a spontaneous mini concert in the acoustically beautiful church. At first it were only Arnold and me that were present, untill a few neighbouring Iranians came along (they’d heard the music over the mountains). Later our co-travellers came to listen and Bert played a small session with Eddy, one of the group members who carries his Martin guitar with him.


Early the next morning Hans and Bert built an impressive installation of microphones dangling on the wall once built to defend the church. This allowed Hans to film Bert as he sat on the wall, playing two instrumental tunes. With the church and the stone mountains in the background, Bert first played a short, gentle improvisation with an Eastern feel to it that really suited the surroundings. Then he played a fast medieval tune called Branle de Chevaux. At one point during the recordings a tractor came driving down the hill with a visiting farmer and his children. The only ‘disturbing’ sound during these outside recordings. And we might just leave it in for the DVD.


the road to Quara Kelisa

the road to Quara Kelisa


October 10, 2008















A few days ago, while leaving Turkey, I wrote a post, but was unable to use the internet up till now, so here it is:


Bert and I are driving through the east of Turkey, a bare but beautiful area where a Savannah like landscape changes into soft coloured, treeless, stone mountains. Tomorrow we’ll cross the border to Iran. I’ll start wearing a head scarf / veil there, as prescribed for women in Iran. I’m curious what that will be like.

Today we are sometimes being stopped by armed check points along side the road. We are asked for our passports and then allowed to continue. It’s a special area in which we travel, on the edge of Kurdistan, a name that we were advised not to use out loud in public in Turkey.


Yesterday we recorded a beautiful version of ‘The snows they melt the soonest’, a traditional song that I first heard performed by the excellent Scottish folksinger Dick Gaughan on his album ‘Handfull of Earth’. Last year I recorded it for the Winterliederen album that I made with Bert and Henk Scholte. Now it was filmed in Goreme (Capadocie), an impressive fairytalish landscape where we camped for a few days.


The recordings were made in a church very different from the one we saw in Kragujevac (Serbia). This was an ancient, ninth century shelter church, carved in the organically shaped Capadocian rocks, brought to our attention as being one of the most beautiful ones in the area. And it was a very special place indeed. Quiet and introvert with beautiful light. Positioned on top of a rock it was surrounded by smaller rooms that used to be places for meditation carved in rocks in the valley below.


It took some time before we could start our recordings, for first technically all you could think of failed, but then there was this unique moment with the light falling in on my face, allowing us to record two takes until the sun disappeared again behind the rocks. Apart from Hans, our filmer, all was also recorded by Emre (the camera man of Wilco van Herpen; who filmed us for his item about the entire group for his program on Turkish television) So we had three camera positions instead of two and this will make a very nice track on the DVD.


That is it for now. We are still driving and the sun is about to go down. The sky is a pastel painting of pink, white and blue.

Leaving Istanbul

October 3, 2008

Just a short post for now as we’re about to leave Istanbul in the direction of Goreme. We spent two days here recovering from our intense long car trip the first 5 days. We’re told Goreme is a beautiful, fairytalish area. We’ll camp there a few days and intend to make recordings in yet another beautiful church. One of the old churches there..partly carved into rocks.

(Wilco van Herpen, a TV maker from The Netherlands, living and working in Turkey, will travel with our group for the next few days to make recordings of the trip)