Gelareh Pour grew up steeped in the Persian classical music traditions of her homeland in Iran. Today, the Melbourne-based performer creates a new kind of diasporic, cross-cultural expression with her group Garden Quartet.
At a young age Pour was steered towards one of her primary instruments, a Persian spiked fiddle called the kamancheh, by teachers who feared this centuries-old practice was at risk of being consigned to history. “The instrument back then was kind of dying out, there weren’t any younger generations playing it,” she tells The Adelaide Review.
“So teachers were trying their best to introduce it to students. I saw the instrument and I fell in love with it – I thought it looked really cool and interesting. Since then I’ve been playing it constantly.”
Pour embraced the world of Persian classical music, but soon found the limited artistic opportunities available to women in Iran to be stifling. “In Iran you can be a completely classical Persian musician,” she says. “The only problem I had was because I was practicing singing as well, and as a woman singer you cannot sing as a soloist. You can only be in choirs or accompanying other singers.”
Relocating to Melbourne to further her studies in ethnomusicology prompted her to seek out new musical forms and collaborators – and new contexts for the kamancheh that her teachers back home could never have anticipated. “[In Iran] playing music, it was always classical Persian,” she says. “I loved it back then and I learned a lot, it gave me a lot of insight and character. But when I moved to Australia, I couldn’t get my hands on all the amazing classical Persian musicians I used to be surrounded by. Instead, I was lucky to get in touch with a lot of experimental musicians in Melbourne.”
She has since collaborated widely, from a doom metal album to a theatrical piece inspired by the 1894 execution of a Melbourne woman accused of ‘baby farming’. “I love how multicultural Melbourne is, and how I can get my hands on any musician from any different background or culture or language,” she says.
That process has culminated in her group Garden Quartet, which features her partner, drummer Bryan O’Dwyer, alongside his former punk bandmate Mike Gallichio on guitar and santur player Arman Habibi. “We don’t talk much,” she reflects. “I found people who understand improvisation on a very deep level. Classical Persian music fundamentally is improvisation, but the way I had learned it was very classical, sometimes I might even call it narrow-minded. But in Melbourne I got to sit next to other musicians and look at how they actually approach improvisation, and have a very mutual conversation that developed the way I look at music.
“It might not be classical Persian music anymore, that’s not something I look for, but I use that culture and language and music that I have in my background to create something new in this new environment.”
Thursday, July 6