Mohammad-Reza Shajarian (23 September 1940 – 8 October 2020) was an Iranian classical singer, composer, and of Persian traditional music. He has been called “Iran’s greatest living maestro of Persian classical music.”Shajarian is also known for his skills in Persian calligraphy and humanitarian activities.
Shajarian was born in Mashhad, Iran, and started singing at the age of five, under the supervision of his father. At the age of twelve, he began studying the traditional classical repertoire known as the Radif. Shajarian started his singing career in 1959 at Radio Khorasan, rising to prominence in the 1960s with his distinct style of singing. His main teachers were Ahmad Ebadi, Esmaeil Mehrtash, Abdollah Davami, and Nour-Ali Boroumand. He also learned the vocal styles of singers from previous generations, including Reza Gholi Mirza Zelli, Fariborz Manouchehri, Ghamar Molouk Vaziri, Eghbal Azar, and Taj Isfahani. He has cited legendary Iranian tar musician Jalil Shahnaz as highly influential to his development, indicating that he has often tried to mimic Shahnaz’s playing style in his singing.
Shajarian had collaborated with Parviz Meshkatian, Mohammad Reza Lotfi, Hossein Alizadeh, and Faramarz Payvar. He was recognized as a skilled singer in the challenging traditional Dastgah style. In 1999 UNESCO in France presented him with the Picasso Award and in 2006 with the UNESCO Mozart Medal.
Shajarian studied singing at the early age of five under the supervision of his father by the recitation of the Quran. At the age of twelve, he began studying the Persian traditional classical repertoire known as the Radif without his father’s consent as studying and performing music was against his father’s religious beliefs. Maybe that’s why he chose the stage name “Siavash Bidakani” in his early career as a singer, which didn’t last long, and soon he used his real name again. Shajarian started his singing career in 1959 at Radio Khorasan, rising to prominence in the 1960s with his distinct style of singing. Since then his career has included teaching at Tehran University‘s Department of Fine Arts, working at National Radio and Television, researching Iranian music, and making numerous recordings.
Shajarian has not always been in music groups, but he currently does the vocals for the Masters of Persian Music with his son Homayoun Shajarian, as well as two other ostads, Kayhan Kalhor and Hossein Alizadeh. He also performs with his daughter Mozhgan Shajarian.
In 2008, he toured the world with the Ava Ensemble, composed of his son Homayoun (tombak and vocals), Hossein Behroozinia (barbat), Majid Derakhshani (tar), Hossain Rezaeenia (daf), and Saeed Farajpouri (kamancheh).
In 2012, he toured with the Shahnaz Ensemble with his daughter Mojgan Shajarian and other band members. The ensemble is named after master tar musician Jalil Shahnaz, with a percentage of the proceeds going towards supporting his health care needs.
- Raast-Panjgaah concert with Mohammad Reza Lotfi in Raast-panjgaah (1976).
- Chehre be Chehre with Mohammad Reza Lotfi in Navaa (1977).
- Golbang-e Shajarian, Part 1 (Bot-e Chin) features Ali Akbar Sheida (Ballads), Fereydun Shahbazian (Composer), Faramarz Payvar (Santur), Hushang Zarif (Tar). Part 2 (Dowlat-e Eshq) features Hasan Yusefzamani (Composer), Ahmad Ebadi (Setar), Ali Asghar Bahari (Kamancheh). Poetry by Hafez, Saadi, and Baba Taher (1977).
- Eshgh Daanad with Mohammad Reza Lotfi in Aboo Ataa (1981).
- Aastaan e Jaanaan with Parviz Meshkatian and Naaser Farhangfar in Sur (1982).
- Bidaad with Parviz Meshkatian and the Aref Ensemble in Homaayoun (1985).
- Be yaad e Aaref with Mohammad Reza Lotfi in Bayaat e Turk (1986).
- Nava – Morakkab Khani with Parviz Meshkatian and the Aref Ensemble in Navaa, Se-gaah, and Dashti (1986).
- Doud-e-Oud with Parviz Meshkatian and the Tehran Symphony Orchestra in Navaa (1987).
- Dastan (album)|Dastan with Parviz Meshkatian and the Aref Ensemble in Chahaar-Gah (1987).
- Dastgah Chahargah (live version of Dastan) concert with Parviz Meshkatian and the Aref Ensemble recorded live in Bonn (1987).
- Ghasedak with Parviz Meshkatian and Homayoun Shajarian (1994).
- Dar Khiaal with Majid Derakhshani in Segaah (1995).
- Zemestaan Ast with Hossein Alizadeh and Keyhan Kalhor in Maahoor and Homaayoun (1999).
- Night, Silence, Desert (Persian: Shab, Sokoot, Kavir) with Keyhan Kalhor based on the folk music of Khorasan. Traditional Crossroads (2000).
- Without you with the Masters of Persian Music Ensemble in Navaa and Bayaat e Kord (2002).
- Faryaad with the Masters of Persian Music Ensemble in Raast-panjgaah (2003).
- Devoid Grail with Fereydoun Shahbazian in Mahour and Dashti (2004).
- Serr-e-Eshgh with Parviz Meshkatian and Mohammad Mousavi in Maahoor.
- Sepideh Album with Mohammad Reza Lotfi and the Sheydaa Ensemble in Maahoor.
- Cheshmeye Noush with Mohammad Reza Lotfi & Madjid Khaladj in Raast-panjgaah.
Shajarian studied with Esmaeil Mehrtash, Ahmad Ebadi, and Nour-Ali Boroumand and learned the vocal styles of previous generations of singers such as Seyed Hossein Taherzadeh, Reza Gholi Mirza Zelli, Ghamar Molouk Vaziri, Eghbal Azar, and Taj Isfahani. He started playing the santour under the instruction of Jalal Akhbari in order to better understand and perform the traditional repertoire. In 1971, he was introduced to Faramarz Payvar and took santour lessons with him. Shajarian also learned Abolhasan Saba‘s vocal Radif from Payvar. He also studied under the guidance of master Abdollah Davami, from whom he learned many early Persian songs. Abdollah Davami also passed on to Shajarian his own interpretation of the Radif.
On December 26, 2003, the ancient city of Bam in south Iran – which is on the UNESCO list of world heritages on the account of its unique mud-brick architecture – was hit with a devastating earthquake; it severed and killed tens of thousands and ruined the city. As Mohammad Reza Shajarian had decided through the occurrences of the previous natural disasters in Iran, he organized another benefit concert by the following month which is notably documented on the DVD Hamnava ba Bam (“Compassion for Bam”) that is released on Delnawaz. Apart from the concert, he initiated a project to help the people after the earthquake.
Shajarian has led the invention of many new Iranian classical music instruments, many of which were showcased in his 2012 concert tour with the Shahnaz Ensemble. Among these instruments are the Kereshmeh, the Saboo, the Saghar, the Sorahi, and the Tondar.
Awards and distinctions
- Aga Khan Trust for Culture (2019)
- French National Order of the Legion of Honour (2014)
- National Order of Merit (2014)
- One of NPR‘s 50 great voices. (2010)
- Nushin medal (2008)
- The UNESCO award – the UNESCO Mozart Medal (2006)
- Nominated for Grammy award in Best World Music (2006)
- Nominated for Grammy award in Best World Music (2004)
- Golden Picasso Medal (1999), one of UNESCO‘s highest honors
- National radio and television golden cup (1977)
- Prize presented by Turkish parliament speaker (1976)
Cover Paint by Mehdi Soleimany