Shahin and Sepehr, the successful Iranian artists, just released their new album "World Cafe." We thought this is a good opportunity to talk to them and ask them some of the questions that have been on our mind.

Payvand: When did you start playing?

Sepehr: Actually, we both started playing music quite young, I started in the 10th grade and Shahin began playing the guitar in the 7th grade. Neither of us is classically trained. Shahin's main instrument was the electric guitar and mine was the acoustic guitar. When we came to the United States for college, Shahin moved to Washington D.C. after a brief stay in San Jose, Calif., to study business and international finance at the American University.

There he formed two bands, "Amsterdam" and later "Feast or Famine," which did quite well in the Washington music scene. Amsterdam performed with Marshall Crenshaw and Spyro Gyra in concert in 1982.

Feast or Famine broke up in 1989 and Shahin and I started collaborating on a few projects that included a song for Barbara Bush's literacy campaign called "Reading, My Friend," and a song for Earth Day 1990.

We decided to create a 10-song compilation as a hobby and, to make a long story short, one thing led to another and the compilation eventually became "One Thousand and One Nights" which as our debut album we considered a success since it went to number 6 on the Billboard Top Ten New Age charts.

The idea behind the style of the music was to write compositions that had no lyrics with Shahin's guitar the single voice that sings the melody for the listener. We felt this would allow the listener to decide where they wanted the song to take them.

Payvand: Who or what was the source of your motivation?

Sepehr: The love of music and the desire to share it with others.

Payvand: What attracted you to new age music? What other music have you experimented with?

Sepehr: Even though, our music label, Higher Octave Music, (now affiliated with Virgin Records), initially started out as a "New Age" record label with the likes of Ottmar Leibert and Cusco, I prefer to define our style of music as "contemporary instrumental" with definite roots in rock and pop instead of "New Age". Our label's direction has even changed now with our new label mates being the likes of famous rock and rollers Neil Schon of the group "Journey", Jon Anderson of the group "Yes" and Craig Chaquico of the group "Jefferson Starship". In reality, the term "new age" does not really describe any musical genre.

Shahin: You could even call it something like "contemporary world dance" because we try to use different rhythms such as reggae, samba, mambo in addition to the conventional rock and pop themes. You could say the melodies blend various influences of Persian and Spanish music as well as blues and jazz.

Payvand: How did you find each other? Shahin and Sepehr sounds very good together! Did the name have anything to do with it? Are these your original names?

Sepehr: We met as high school friends in Tehran at Iran Zamin (Tehran International School).

Payvand: What's your most pleasant experience on your music journey?

Shahin: The most pleasant experience is two best friends travelling on this journey together with the same vision of where we want to go.

Payvand: How about your worst experience?

To be very honest, (knock on wood), there really have not been any bad experiences so far. It may just be our philosophy of trying to see every event, no matter how uncomfortable it may be at the time, as an experience to learn from to make oneself more prepared for future challenges (i.e., turn it into a positive).

Payvand: Working your way through the crowds, you probably had to deal with rejections at times. How hard was this for you and how did you deal with it?

Sepehr: By "crowds" if you mean our audience when we perform, I must say we again have been lucky that there have been no rejections, and actually that is one big reason we enjoy performing live, we get to see the people that appreciate our music in person and we have always appreciated their support. With regards to record companies when we were unsigned, yes we did receive rejections, but that was just part of the process. Since Shahin and I have been friends for so long, we have been through a lot together so the initial rejections prior to our signing with Higher Octave Music were taken very lightheartedly. Besides, a lot of times the marketing people in these companies don't have an idea of what can or cannot become popular. We received a rejection from one company and 3 months later after being signed to Higher Octave our debut album "One Thousand and One Nights" was at #6 on the Billboard Music charts. We believed in our music and knew in our hearts that sooner or later someone in one of the record companies will also believe that if the music gets exposure it will become popular. Higher Octave believed in us and they are now benefiting from their decision.

Payvand: Do you ever imagine going your own separate paths, perhaps during periods of system overload :-)

We already work on separate projects when we have the time, but we both have so much freedom in our joint efforts of Shahin & Sepehr projects that we truly never have felt the "system overload" you mention. It also may be a function of the many years of friendship and respect we have for each others talents. In music and art, the synergistic effect of two people collaborating usually is greater than each individual alone.

Payvand: What message have you been trying to send with your music? Have you been successful?

Shahin: The interesting aspect of instrumental music (no lyrics) is that the message is whatever the listener wants it to be. There are no words or lyrics to tell the listener what the song is about, each person can have their own interpretation of what each song means. It's a more personal experience for the listener.

Payvand: Why did you call your previous album Aria?

Sepehr: For two reasons. One, is the obvious reason of being Persian and proud of our heritage . The other of course is the musical term "aria" which means an elaborate melody for a single voice, with accompaniment, such as in an opera. The single voice in our music being Shahin's guitar and the accompaniment being my contribution to our music.

Payvand: What's the motivation behind or distinct character of your new CD, World Cafe?

As we mention in our foreword to the CD, it has been two years since the release of our last album, "Aria". Much of this time was spent reinterpreting our approach to songwriting. We made a conscious decision to go back to our roots, which for us meant performing our music with just two acoustic guitars, in a style that is better known today as "unplugged". This organic grassroots approach gave way to a live sound which with the help of our band members and their diverse cultural and musical backgrounds, formed the essence of our new album. The influences brought to the project by everyone involved consists of various cultures and genres, which makes for a melange of international styles, hence the title... "World Cafe". We consider this setting to be ideal for a universal dialogue spoken in the language of music. We want to welcome the listener to take part in this dialogue, and to travel to far away places, as well as, the ever elusive journey within.

Payvand: What's next? Any music video in the works?

Shahin: Yes, we actually just returned from New York where we finished shooting the video for the song "Wild World" (our instrumental interpretation of the famous Cat Stevens 70's hit from his classic "Tea for the Tillerman" album). We were excited about working with the director who has worked with the likes of Sarah McLaughlin and Blues Travellers, among others.

Payvand: Where should we expect to see your video? VH1? MTV?

The label will be submitting the video to VH1 and MTV but the competition for airplay on such channels is so fierce that they very well may not play it more than a few times, especially that ours is instrumental music and those stations tend to air videos with singing. However, you will probably see it on PBS-type (public broadcast) stations across the U.S.

Payvand: Have you benefited from Iranian music? Have you experimented with blending that music with the music of the west or other cultures?

Certainly, as children growing up in Iran we were influenced by Persian music through osmosis, and therefore the influence is more of a subconscious one, especially in Shahin's intricate guitar melodies on songs such as "Golestan Interlude" from our album "e", or "Persia" from our album "One Thousand and One Nights".

Payvand: You are well-known among Iranians abroad. How about the the people in Iran. Do you have any information on your CD sales and your popularity in Iran?

We know that our music is played quite frequently and actually we have received bootleg (illegally reproduced) copies of our music from our friends in Iran. It is really hysterical that on the bootleg copies it says that" any unauthorized use of this recording will be prosecuted to the extent of the law under international copyright laws". In terms of popularity in Iran, we appeared on a satellite TV program broadcast to the Middle East, and of course Iran, and we were taking requests from callers and answering their questions. We were amazed to see the calls we received from cities as diverse as Kermanshah, Ahvaz, Mashhad, Isfahan, etc. with people knowing of our music. Actually, the song "Call from Kashan" on "World Cafe" was written for one such caller from Kashan.

Payvand: What did the caller from Kashan ask?

He was listening to a song from "Aria" called "Road to Shiraz" and asked if we have written one for Shiraz, please write one for his beautiful city, and so we did.

Payvand: Have you ever been to Kashan? If yes, what do you remember from there?

Yes, actually I have. I remember "Hamam-Fin" which was a historical site where Amir Kabir,the famous Persian Prime minister died. In addition, I remember the wonderful carpets.

Payvand: Would you consider doing a concert tour in Iran? Has anyone ever approached you about this?

Yes, we are actually looking into it. Since our music is instrumental and is being played in Iran on TV and radio programs quite frequently, it wouldn't be considered unacceptable to have a concert in Iran. We are pursuing the idea with some U.S. public television stations to film such a concert and having it air on Public Television here in the U.S. Our tour manager for our 3 California shows (Sacramento, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in July) was the producer for the "Yanni-Live at Acropolis" show and has much experience in producing such a show overseas. We are so busy, however, that this project probably won't begin until sometime late next year.

Payvand: What's your favorite piece of music or your favorite musician?

Sepehr: My singer/songwriter influence was Cat Stevens. I think his albums "Catch Bull at Four" and "Foreigner" were truly fantastic. My group influence was Jethro Tull, my favorite album being "Living in the Past" whose title is symbolic of our philosophy of how not to live life. As a famous Persian poet once said, "Az dee ke gozasht, hych azoo yad makon."

Shahin: Eric Clapton for his guitar-playing prowess, and Sting as a songwriter. A group that I enjoy very much is R.E.M.

Payvand: How about your favorite Iranian musicians and singers?

I remember loving to listen to Pari Zanganeh's folkloric songs, and also many years ago to the singer/songwriter Shusha.

Payvand: How is your work and practice schedule? Has this ever caused stress in your family life?

Of course it can get very hectic sometimes but the rewards far outweigh the stress.

Payvand: What exactly are these rewards?

The reward is being able to do what we truly enjoy for a living, playing our music. This is a blessing and we feel very lucky to be able to do this.

Payvand: As immigrant artists, have you ever faced a "glass ceiling?"

I think the pronunciation of our names (Shahin & Sepehr) may have initially given a few DJ's on the radio stations that play our music problems, but the beauty of it all is in the fact that the universality of art and music shatters the "glass ceiling" (if there is even one). We feel blessed and thank God for the success we have experienced on the radio charts, Billboard charts, and from the awards that we have received from the U.S. Recording industry for our work.

Payvand: Are you a happy Iranian immigrant? A happy artist? A happy father? Anything missing?

As long as one is healthy and has a great family and friends (which we both do), how can you not be happy.

Payvand: Let me ask you the standard interview question :-) Where do you see yourselves 5 years from now?

Hopefully, still writing music and performing concerts, and having succeeded in developing ourselves spiritually. We always remind ourselves that there needs to be such a balance.

Payvand: If you were to send a message to the Iranians abroad, what would you say?

Nothing is impossible.

Shahin & Sepehr's July 98 Concert Tour

The message on Shahin & Sepehr's web site reads:
Dear Friends,
It has been two years since the release of our last album, "Aria". Much of this time was spent reinterpreting our approach to songwriting. We made a conscious decision to go back to our roots, which for us meant performing our music with just two acoustic guitars, in a style that is better known today as "unplugged".
This organic grassroots approach gave way to a live sound which with the help of our band members and their diverse cultural and musical backgrounds, formed the essence of our new album. The influences brought to the project by everyone involved consists of various cultures and genres, which makes for a melange of international styles, hence the title...

"World Cafe".

We consider this setting to be ideal for a universal dialogue spoken in the language of music. We welcome you to take part in this dialogue, and to travel to far away places, as well as, the ever elusive journey within.

Love & Peace

Shahin & Sepehr


In a genre where keeping the listener pacified seems a bylaw and artistic evolution from one project to the next is often a rare commodity, the guitar-keyboard tandem of Shahin & Sepehr take a striking stand toward innovation. Perfectly matching Higher Octave's goal of blending smooth, rhythmic pop flavors with a positive environmental and spiritual consciousness, the duo's first two releases, 1994's Top Ten best seller, One Thousand & One Nights and 1995's NAIRD (National Association of Independent Record Distributors) nominee for Best New Age Album, e, have happily defied strict categorization, fitting as easily into the international music bins as they do on the jazz and new age charts. With their latest release, the wonderfully textured and cooly dynamic Aria, Shahin & Sepehr tap into an even fresher vibe in the world beat meet urban dance realm, combining soulful pop melodies with more organic sonic ideas and of course, their trademark Middle Eastern flair.

Lifelong friends as well as musical soul mates, Shahin Shahida and Sepehr Haddad have been collaborating on and off since they met as teenagers attending the International School in Tehran. Though they share a similar Persian background culturally, they arrived at their current style from very diverse musical upbringings. Shahin was born in Iran and spent his formative years there and in Austria. "Both Sepehr and I have lived in very creative environments during our childhood in Iran, Europe and the U.S., which resulted in our appreciation of the arts and music of different cultures," he says. Moving to the states to attend American University in Washington D.C. (where he earned a degree in finance), Shahin parlayed his love for the music of Eric Clapton and Santana, into two long-term associations with the modern rock bands Amsterdam (four years) and later, Feast or Famine.

Throughout this time, Shahin realized that Middle Eastern flavors were cropping up in his own compositions and began spending his spare time working on instrumental material. Both of his bands even had degrees of success as live units (Amsterdam opened for artists such as Spyro Gyra and Angela Bofill).

Sepehr was born in Washington D.C. but lived in Iran during his high school years before returning to the U.S. to attend college at UC Davis. He complemented his studies in the agricultural sciences by performing in local coffeehouses, playing his favorite tunes by Jethro Tull, Elton John and Cat Stevens. After college, Sepehr moved to Washington D.C. and reunited with Shahin.

After many years of simply noodling for fun, Shahin and Sepehr began taking their collaborative possibilities more seriously. "Because we weren't classically trained," Sepehr says, "we were satisfied in creating music that appealed to us regardless of its commercial viability. In a sense, we had no inhibitions." Their early tunes were used for the Barbara Bush Literacy Campaign and by the Brazilian World Cup soccer team as training music. They then recorded a more serious home studio demo tape of their work and WLLT in Washington D.C. put it into heavy rotation. Shahin & Sepehr then shipped it to local retail outlets and set out to find a label deal.

"Our chemistry is a big part of what we do," claims Shahin. "Our sound breaks down essentially to well-structured musical pieces with Spanish guitars taking the lead voice. We mix our love for rock and jazz into a very systematic approach to writing music. Being close friends, speaking the same musical languages while acknowledging the differences between us, makes everything work smoothly." Sepehr adds, "Shahin's much calmer and more introspective, while I'm more outwardly expressive, which creates a very good balance in our relationship."

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