Strunz & Farah
World Music Foundation Podcast | Season 1, Episode 5
“It evolves out of the guitar, and out of our individual cultures.”
About this Episode
Originally from Costa Rica and Iran respectively, Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah have brought the musical influences of their native lands into their highly virtuosic, rhythmic, and improvisation-rich original instrumental compositions, inspiring fans and many guitarists worldwide. Their meeting in 1979 in Los Angeles, where they are still based, marked the first time that Latin American and Middle Eastern music, along with other important elements, came together on the guitar. Our conversation touches on all of these points and more. Enjoy!
John Gardner: Hello, hello and welcome again to the World Music Foundation podcast. I’m your host, John Gardner, and today we speak with Billboard chart topping, global guitar fusion duo, Strunz and Farah. Today’s guests have a long history of making fantastic music together but in a lot of ways, they’re a perfect picture for the future. They come together from opposite sides of the globe but instead of letting their differences separate them, they’ve embraced and showcased their individual culture through music. And in the process, they’ve created their own unique and amazing blend of musical styles. Their latest album is “Tale of Two Guitars” which you hear behind me right now. I’m incredibly proud and grateful to bring you our conversation with Strunz and Farah, I hope you enjoy.
John Gardner: Thank you both so much for being here.
Jorge Strunz: Thank you John for having us, it’s a pleasure to be with you.
Ardeshir Ardeshir Farah: Yes John it’s great to be with you, thank you.
John Gardner: Thank you. And the two voices we have Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah.
Jorge Strunz: Right and I’m Jorge just for reference and he’s the other voice. (laughter)
Ardeshir Ardeshir FarahVoice identification. (laughter)
John Gardner: Thank you for that. And y’all have been making music together for, it’s about 40 years now is that right?
Jorge Strunz: It’s getting nigh up to that, I’ve lost track actually. It’s the kind of thing you want to lose track of after a while as many years go by. But we got together in 1980, early 1980 to record I think, although we met each other the year before. But I think our work started pretty much close to 1980 wasn’t that the case Ardeshir?
Ardeshir Farah: Yes that’s true, our first meeting was in 1979 like Jorge said the year before. At that time Jorge was doing his last album with Caldera and he called me like 6 months later to get together so that was 1980.
Jorge Strunz: That’s right.
John Gardner: So you two come together, you’re both cleary incredible guitar players by that point. One from Costa Rica, Jorge, and once from Iran, Ardeshir. Now you sit down, to make music together for the first time. What do you play?
Jorge Strunz: Well, the first time we had gotten together actually I met Ardeshir through a mutual friend. And I wasn’t sure what to expect when I met Ardeshir because I’d never heard him play before or anything like that. So it was quite a surprise to hear him play the first time we got together. I’d been playing or actually practicing a piece more just for practice sake not for any professional uses or purposes but it was a piece by Monti, a piece called Csárdás which is based on Hungarian Gypsy motifs which I had heard both Paco De Lucia record and also before him the great Spanish gypsy guitar player Sabicas also had a version of it– one of his recordings that he made in New York in the 1950s. And I always liked the piece and I figured well it would be fun to try this piece out. And I’d been working on it. So when Ardeshir came over I suggested that piece as a starting point since we were both interested in certain technical approaches to the guitar. We were both plectrum specialists although I played both with my hands also and my nails that is to say as well as the plectrum but I’m really more of a plectrum player like Ardeshir. And I thought it might be an interesting vehicle for the two of us to get started on to see what could evolve from that because it was a demanding piece for guitar especially technically, but fairly easy to remember, to memorize. And so that was the first thing we played and we had a great time with it and were actually harmonizing parts with it on our first meeting.
John Gardner: And Ardeshir were you familiar with that piece? I love that you both get together, again one from Costa Rica one from Iran, and play a Hungarian, I think it’s a violin piece.
Ardeshir Farah: (Laughter) Yes.
John Gardner: Were you familiar with that piece?
Ardeshir Farah: I was very familiar with that piece. I had heard that piece in childhood by different performers who used to come in to Iran and to Tehran and perform in various places. So I was quite familiar with the piece and it was a delight to hear Jorge was working on it because it was like “wow,” who would be playing Csárdás on guitar?
John Gardner: First off who is able to play Csárdás on guitar, to begin with?
Ardeshir Farah: It was a very pleasant surprise.
John Gardner: Y’all were synced up. I think actually I want to take us back, I’m going to ask y’all to take us back there because just the fact that both of you were familiar with the piece and of course had put in so many hours of practice. If you wouldn’t mind individually, if you could just give us some background, kind of an origin story– what brought you to that point in 1979 where you can sit down and play this piece and have this cultural music already familiar to you. What are your first memories of music? Ardeshir if you could start off.
Ardeshir Farah: Well in Iran my family particularly my mother was very interested, she liked music from Latin America and from Spain so in the house I used to hear a lot of Latin music, different groups, records and also Flamenco from Spain. Then as I grew up at the age of 10 The Beatles became famous and they became a major influence on many people in Iran and obviously the main instrument in that group was the guitar. So all of a sudden there were all these cover bands in Tehran that started doing Beatles music. So that was about the time I got my first guitar and of course I had all this Flamenco music in the back of my mind, which is one of the most amazing sources of styles of guitar playing. But in Tehran we didn’t have access to record stores, and record from abroad, every now and then we’d get a record if you were lucky enough someone would buy it and take it home and you’d listen to it. So after I bought my first electric guitar I formed a band with some friends and we did music from, pop music actually from England, from the United States, and did cover songs. And after that I moved to London to carry on with my education, basically finish high school and pursue architectural engineering which is something I had to because my family was supporting me and all of my family were architectural engineers. And I was allowed to play the guitar as long as it didn’t get in the way; that was the rule in the family. So I ended up going to London for high school studies. In London I joined a few rock bands, and I stayed with one of them. We did gigs all over England. Starting up gigs in this club and that club and different clubs in London. And then I realized that playing music and studying in London was not going to work because it’s very hard, you have to *pick one or you risk losing the other* and I changed my mind about living in London and I came to the United States, went to Boston. And I went to Institute of Technology to study architecture. At that time I became very interested in the jazz-fusion music that was going on particularly in this country…
John Gardner: Wow, well it was all of our good fortune cause the music y’all have made over the years it’s our good fortune to have it. That’s amazing how y’all came together.
Jorge Strunz: And at that time that too when I met Ardashir, I had been studying Indian music with Harihar Rao here in Pasadena who is a long time student of Ravi Shankar and he introduced me to Doctor L Subramaniam the famous south Indian violinist and I started playing with Subramaniam, and through that connection, I’d already started creating a repertoire with Ardashir, we met Dick Bock who was a very renowned personality within the business, the record business. He was instrumental in the careers of Jean-Luc Ponty, Wes Montgomery, Ravi Shankar. And he’s the one that has the deal with Fantasy Milestone through the offices of Harihar Rao and L Subramaniam.
John Gardner: Wow so it even started with adding another culture, somehow Indian classical music got involved in all of this too.
Strunz and Farah: That’s right he helped us immensely at the beginning. Yeah, that’s right.
John Gardner: Over the years, I know for each album, I’ve noticed how, of course you two are the core, the amazing playing that you both bring to it, the compositions. But it seems like there’s slight differences, not just in the personal but cultures you bring into it, other instruments. What are some of the cultures you brought into your various recordings and did they influence how you approach or thought about music during the times when you were working with other instrumentation?
Jorge Strunz: Very much so actually, because although the foundation of the band was the two guitars, obviously the core unit of the idea, the music that was being written was primarily based on Afro Latin rhythms so our main support group at that time was mostly some of great Afro Latin players we found in Los Angeles including people like Luis Conte well renowned percussionist, Cuban percussionist, and he was instrumental on our first record. He recorded the first record with us in Mosaico and his imprint on that record is significant. And at the same time we also collaborated with Subramaniam on the first record, of course came in through the Indian connection that we had. He played two pieces on that record with us, on that first record of ours, and it actually, the recording came out as a courtesy deal on his label at that time which was called Ganesh Records so there was an input from the Indian side at that point of our music. And later on, we also became involved besides the usual Afro Latin musicians that we used, which have always been hard and parcel of our recordings, we used some famous Persian musicians also later on, for example in the second record we did for Famous Milestone and Paul Fornatera we had Manoochehr Sadeghi playing with us who is a renowned tour master from Iran and he joined us on that piece and then on the record after that, a record called Guitarras we were joined by the beloved and famous Iranian singer Hayadeh who joined us on one piece and we were honored to have her sing with us actually it was something, she stepped out of her normal artistic realm to join us for which I think she took some heat from the tourist in the field, but she didn’t care, she wanted to do it. And we were delighted so we went ahead and recorded with her. And she appears on the last piece of the record Guitarras, a piece called Mirage.
Ardeshir Farah: Yeah that was very interesting.
John Gardner: Going into something like that, such a big collaboration, did you design the music knowing that you were gonna have her vocals?
Jorge Strunz: Yes. Well, Aradishir hooked it up obviously, he can tell you about that.
Ardeshir Farah: Well you know as we were meeting Jorge and the way he was taking lessons from Harihar Rao and getting into Indian styles and fusing all these different elements, it was a great learning experience for me to how he can incorporate guitar in all these different styles, basically do a lot of things with it. Before that, my notion of guitar was more limited to jazz fusion, jazz, blues, rock. And then I realized you can incorporate guitar and make Persian music. Use Persian rhythms and use Persian scales, some of the melodies. And some of the things they do in Persian instruments, like tar and Santur and Oud. And think, these instruments can accompany and play with us, and that’s where the first composition Reng came from that Jorge just mentioned we and Majid Ghorbani and Pequon Base mixture of different musicians but mainly rooted in the Persian concept. And for the record after that we did the same thing, we composed a song called Mirage for the two guitars, the percussion was Middle Eastern percussion played by Majid Ghorbaniwe were thinking who can we use for a solo for the instrument and we thought how about a voice, how about a Persian āvāz which is a chant. And we thought, well you know, I checked with a lot of the artists I was playing with at the time and, Hayadeh, Hayadeh is like the Queen of Iranian singers, extremely well respected, she was an incredible person and a very kind woman, very kind lady. And she accepted, she said anytime anywhere. She came and did a solo, she basically did the third solo on the song was her voice. And we were just so delighted to spend time in the studio with her. We did like 19-20 takes of her just because she was so good, every single one was just as good. We kept recording her over and over again. That ended up being something really original with guitars, that and Hayadeh.
John Gardner: Yeah. Well you mentioned some of the instruments, and it sounded like just through your collaborations you started exploring yourself how to take guitar into these realms with some of these other instruments. I have some questions about that, like when I listen to your latest album, Tale of Two Guitars, there’s a piece on there that jumps out to me, all of them of course are unique and they all bring their own different flavors, but on Peaks of Alborz you mentioned how she’ll do Persian classical but then she’ll also do Folk and Pop. What makes that piece, Peaks of Alborz so instantly this Persian sound? I know there is some Santur on there. Is there’s other instruments on that as well? Do you have the Kamancheh on that track?
Ardeshir Farah: Yes we do. Actually, we collaborated with a good musician, good friend of ours, Keyavash Nouraiwho is a very good instrumentalist, he played several instruments he played violin, kamancheh and the santur. The idea is very Persian: da da ding da da ding that’s how it starts, so the composition was composed in that lane and we collaborated with Keyavash in that, he played Santour, he played the melodies with Santour and Camanche, two guitars. And then Jorge added some very interesting harmonies to parts of the song to bring it a little bit out of the model, out of the Persian model, modality. In that sense, it was a very interesting experiment fusing all these elements together.
John Gardner: Clearly the experiment was a success, I love that track. So that rhythm at the beginning, because you can’t just throw on kamancheh and Santur and get that distinctly Persian sound. That rhythm had a lot to do with it. Is there a name for that rhythm, a certain timing. What is it about that rhythm that makes it recognizably Persian?
Ardeshir Farah: As far as I know it’s called a Chaharmezrab which in Persian it means 4 plectrums, it usually it refers to pieces that are up tempo with the da da ding it’s a certain beat or rhythm usually it’s up tempo and the melodies are pretty elaborate. In the extra version it’s a moving style. We picked that rhythm in order to collaborate with the Persian instrumentals that come before that song.
John Gardner: Would that be classical music or folk music?
Ardeshir Farah: That would be Persian ethnic classical music
John Gardner: Classical, great. Any artists or recordings or any suggestions if someone wanted to find out more about Persain ethnic classical?
Ardeshir Farah: Well one person who is very famous that I’m friends with, I have connections with Kayhan Kalhor he’s a very famous kamancheh player. He collaborates with Yo-Yo Maon the Silk Road Ensemble video that he’s put together for the last 19 years. Another one is Hossein Alizadeh, who’s a master of Setar and he has a group with his son and a couple of them play kamancheh extremely well. Group is like 6 of them. They were performing at UCLA a few years ago and it turned out they heard of us and came out after the show and just came straight to Jorge and I and sat there and hugged us and said hello. Those two names primarily and other young groups that are coming up that are modernizing the style to today’s standards in many ways, in technical ways and other aspects. There’s a power triangle that the lady–what’s her name Jorge?– Sahba Motallebi–who’s an excellent modern tar and sitar player.
John Gardner: Hmm well great, we’ll provide links for that on WMFpodcast.org
Ardeshir FarahAnd I’m sure there are many others a little bit under the radar because of the situation in Iran, I can find links for you if you want later.
John Gardner: Oh yeah, that’s one of the things we like to do, just be the person to help turn others on to music that they might not run into otherwise. So that’s really helpful, thank you.
Ardeshir Farah Sure.
John Gardner: And while we’re on the album, another track that stood out to me, that made me think of a musical style, but I want to clarify, maybe should’ve even done this earlier, that as amazing of guitar players as you both of you are, you are not Flamenco guitar players, and you do not you claim to be Flamenco guitarists.
Jorge Strunz: Right, absolutely.
John Gardner: I’m sure you hear that a lot, anything that sounds kinda in that realm, oh it’s Flamenco!
Jorge Strunz: That’s right, a common misconception.
John Gardner: But jumping from that because obviously you both highly appreciate and have studied Flamenco, I wanted to talk about El Regalito, the little gift, from the latest album. So when I hear that, at the beginning, I don’t think there’s actually palmas in there but the rhythms really invoke the power of it basically, and I’ve always thought that just the hand clap, used correctly, is one of the most powerful instruments and nothing, in my opinion, showcases the hand clap more than Flamenco music when done correctly.
Jorge Strunz: Oh absolutely, that’s right. Palmas they are called in Flamenco from the palm of the hand, Palmas. Those guys are amazing, some of them aren’t even musicians in the sense that they don’t play musical instruments but they are with the musicians giving them the rhythm, and they have such a refined sense of rhythm that they can do, one guy does the downbeat tak tak tak, quite fast, and the other guy does the up beat perfectly synchronized taka taka taka, and the amazing thing is that many musicians have tried, including Aradashir and I, where we could do it, and we always kinda don’t make it. It seems to be a particularly Spainish specialty, Spainish from Spain, and that’s something they do amazing with, they’re like clocks, they have such precise timing in Flamenco, it’s quite remarkable. And the Palmas represents that, that kind of very fine tuning in terms of precision of the rhythm. They hear things in almost 30 second notes so it’s very finely grated rhythm and certainly palmas is something they use in Flamenco a lot. And in terms of the tune of El Regalito, which means the little gift in Spanish, that piece is actually much more Latin American as the foundation of it. It’s based on a rhythm called a Cumbia which is a very popular rhythm from Mexicoto Colombia, the origins are mostly in Colombia although every little country in between has variations on it, it’s a rhythm in 4/4 and what we used on El Regalito was Diego Alvarez who is an extraordinary percussionist from Venezuela who in addition to knowing all the Afro Latin and Afro Andean styles is also an expert Flamenco cajonero plays the Cajon spent 18 years in Spain, he’s the expert on all this Afro Latin things and the kind of drums that have to be used. The Cumbia requires a certain set of drums, not all of which were accessible to us during the recordings, so we made do with some other things but he knew all the patterns and the overlays that have to be done. Typically in Afro Latin music, the whole idea of it is based on overlays of rhythm there’s a foundational rhythm over on top of which another rhythm fits, possibly a third rhythm on top that. And this is what creates the rhythmic overlay which makes it unique musical rhythmical in the music of the world. Because it’s a sandwich of rhythms basically and the people who are experts at it, like Diego Alvarez and other people that we have worked with in the past, like Juanito Olivia, who is a Cuban percussionist, they knew all these rhythms and they would say “Jorge this goes like this” and he would tap it on my shoulder here’s the foundation, and then on top of that you gotta put this other thing, and on top of that we put this. And that’s called And they would know all these multiple rhythms were and how they fit together. Largely from this African heritage that evolved in a slightly different way obviously in the Caribbean area. So that tune is based on a Cumbia which is an Afro Latin rhythm.
John Gardner:Okay basically we just got some serious background, Flamenco, Afro Latin, all sorts of terms being thrown out there. We always put links and definitions and examples on our website, WMFpodcast.org, so people can click through there. I didn’t tell y’all ahead of time but any time we mention any artist, any style of music, any instruments, we go through and we document every single instance that we talk about and provide links and information for our listeners.
Jorge Strunz:That’s great. That’s very important. And we shouldn’t forget the also, of course, great American musicians we’ve played with. Hubert Law, Stanley Clark, Katisse Buckingham, great jazz players, who are among the most amazing musicians on the planet in terms of genres they do, and they’ve contributed a lot to our music over the years also.
John Gardner:Yeah I bet, and a lot of you’ve, a lot that you take from jazz, from my hearing, involves improvisation. Is that right?
Jorge Strunz: Absolutely. The process of improvisation.
John Gardner: So how did either of you, or both of you can chime in, can you explain a little bit, it’s like a mystery to non-musicians or to basic musicians. What goes into improvisation, but what really is a mystery to me is improvising with somebody else. Y’all are so in sync. Can you talk a little bit about improvisation and then what it’s like improvising with somebody else?
Jorge Strunz: Well, yeah. I think basically improvisation requires, and Ardeshir and I have studied this extensively of course as being a guitar duo and having to improvise individually over the different vehicles and tunes that we create. Basically there’s a harmonic structure, a harmonic cycle, over which is to say a series of chords in a defined progression, it can be 8 bars, it could be 16 bars, it could be 32 bars, but it’s a cycle that repeats so that the improviser always knows at what point in the cycle such a chord may be and what scale that chord takes in order for it to sound properly. So the chord scale relationships are first thing you have to understand, I don’t want to get too technical, but you have to know the chord and the scale that goes on top of it. This is the basic information as to how you actually improvise on it, that depends on many different conditions. For example, in jazz they have a certain way of speaking these improvisations, it’s a language almost like Spainsh or French or Farsi. They use certain phrases that are memorized by the musicians that can be linked together like a necklace or a chain. It’s made up of all these little units. We use a similar approach which was largely inspired by jazz, which is probably the greatest improvisational music around, although Indian music certainly has a lot of that also going on. So we use a different language, we use our own language. In terms of how the licks themselves are developed, they are guitaristic, they evolve out of the guitar, and out of our individual cultures. But the concept of how they’re applied to these chord cycles is basically a jazz concept. Aradishar you may want to, what’s the date on that?
Aradishar: I agree with all of that. The chord scale relationship is definitely the first thing you need to know. And then timing; what tempo, what rhythm and what you can do with the rhythm of that tempo. Could be a slow song, could be a very fast song, could be a medium tempo. There are certain things that you do within your style that you can do with different tempos and different timings. In our case, we take them high speed, you know, patterns, we need to develop those, we each compose our own way of dealing with the lines that come natural to Jorge and come natural to me. We use those in our improvisations, little melodies, little phrases within the harmonies. We definitely do a lot of that in our music. Most of our tunes, 95% of our pieces have improvisation sections by both of us.
Jorge Strunz: In other words the chords are written in way that composed music at first. There is a theme to the beat, melody, maybe a bridge or a chord.And then a harmonic cycle usually in the middle followed by improvisation and then it returns to the more composed part of the tune usually to end with but commonly ABA Structure
John Gardner: So like in Jazz, you just go back to the head and improvise on that. I see. Now, because so much of it is improvised, and I love that when you said that you each bring what kind of comes through naturally what comes through your own personal histories, your cultures, it comes out in the music. Now every improvisation only exists in that moment…until you record it. Once it’s recorded, do you end up losing that versatility like when you play it live or do you still have the freedom because of the structure of the songs that you can improvise and come back to the head or are you locked in once its..
Jorge Strunz: You have the option. You have the option in other words in some cases I’ll use once I improvise a solo in the studio and by improvisational its almost a master sort of composition in a way but your still composing in some degree. So when you are actually performing this piece after its been recorded as players we have the option of either memorizing our improvisation sometimes we do that for certain pieces or just started off on a whole new improvisation in front of the public. So it depends on the tone largely and on how much time you want to spend memorizing and improvisation.
John Gardner: Makes sense. And I ask that because I love unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to hear you in concert yet. That’s on my to-do list because I would absolutely love that but there is some of you tunes that I have listened to so many times that I have them memorized and I would hope for one day to hear that but I also want to hear how you explore those things so its a win win.
Jorge Strunz: Some tunes you might hear it the way that you heard it and another tune you won’t it will be a different thing.
John Gardner: That’s Exciting
Jorge Strunz: Sometimes the audience get used to what they hear on the record not knowing that’s improvising. They want to hear what is on the record but that happen to me when I see other bands and they come to the full light andI expect the solo on the recording or something like that then they play something else. I know we knew clapping would be very hard for us to do. In other words we did a video where we had to do a lip sync to what was recorded and we wouldn’t know what to do with it when the improvisation part came.
John Gardner: I’m sure, I’m sure. Well I’m going to give y’all a pop quiz because its been 11 years now but this is just out of my own personal interest. I love the album Wild Muse and in particular, I think it’s the opening track, Camino Real.
Jorge Strunz: Mhm
John Gardner: I just pop quiz because I’m asking out of your repertoire it has to be hundreds by now. Can you remember anything about that track or anything that goes into it the recording or composition?
Jorge Strunz: Well it’s interesting that was with Nengue Hernandez playing a great..another excellent afrolatin percussionist. He did a great job on it. That piece has an interesting history. I’m not sure we were going to have a famous Flamenco player play on it as our guest but the timing did not work out on it so we created a space for him to take… a featured spot on the piece and when he hadn’t submitted his material in time unfortunately because of a number of reasons and we had to master and proceed with our schedule. We were forced to create another solo which was not originally planned as far as the piece was concerned because we couldn’t include the guest we had in mind for it so that was the tune that we had to scramble on it in the last minute.
John Gardner: Oh wow!
Jorge Strunz: I remember that about it for sure and it had very elaborate 2 or 3 guitar parts that were part of the composition. Yeah
John Gardner: Wow that’s amazing how it came out.
Ardeshir Farah: Carlitos Del Puerto collaborated with us for the first time on that record
Jorge Strunz: Oh yeah, yeah. Carlitos Del Puerto, the great bass player from Cuba. He is currently playing with I think Chick Corea. He plays with Barbra Streisand he has had a great career and is well known. He has had a great career, yeah great career.
John Gardner: Great. Thanks for indulging me in that. I just love the tracks so I had to ask about that. Also, I wanted to ask cause on this podcast episode 3 can be heard at www.WMFPocast.org/3. We interview Thomas Brooman he is one of the co-founders of the WOMADs festival and also one of the ones who was in that room that actually invented the term “World Music” and we have the whole story on that.
Jorge Strunz: Interesting
John Gardner: You can pin down the exact date June 29th 1987 and the exact bar.
Jorge Strunz: What year was it?
John Gardner: 1987
Jorge Strunz: 1987 wow that amazing
John Gardner: At that time they get together they head to these kinda International focused record companies and they say “How do we promote this great music so more people can hear?” They pull their money together, they buy just place cards from record stores and lets just have a place we could shelf these things and they make this World Music category. They had no idea it would blow up the way it has. Some people love the term, some people hate it, but I wonder with y’all obviously the term World Music is coming to play when y’all were nominated for a Grammy in that category. But did y’all notice a difference when that term started coming about? Was it positive, negative affect on your music, none. What’s kinda your thoughts on the term World Music influence the perception of music?
Jorge Strunz: I think it was very positive actually
Ardeshir Farah: Yeah
Jorge Strunz: because they were able to…the business side of it. The labels and so forth, the marketing and all that was able to channel it in a specific direction where as before it was always our attempt it was very strange. I remember recording Mosaico which we did under our own steam our own money but we couldn’t find even though I was well connected in the industry here in LA, I couldn’t find anyone interested in the music because we did a demo for some of my contacts. And they said “What do we call this? This is too exotic. Where are we going to sell this Timbuktu?” And we got responses like that or another response was “ You guys are giving us fine Italian shoes and we deal with sneakers here.” So yeah they had no idea what to call it and there was no term for it. So when you don’t have a channel or some sort of conduit the promotion, its difficult to promote. The world music category took hold, then finally we had a channel feed that would cover our music also and that made it easier frankly to market the music and to get it out to the different media because, without it, it would be more difficult. Like it was for us in the early 1980’s; it was complicated.
Ardeshir Farah: Right exactly, and there was also the World Music Charts in Billboard Magazine. And we were- we got on that chart, actually our Primal Magic album was #1 on that chart for weeks. And Américas went up to #2 on that chart.
Ardeshir Farah: Yeah that helped in Amsterdam.
Jorge Strunz: Made a huge difference.
Ardeshir Farah: Right.
John Gardner: Interesting. Well yeah, some people love the term, some people hate it. Our organization’s called the World Music Foundation and I’m constantly learning more and more about the impact of that term.
Jorge Strunz: It encompasses a lot of different things now, including popular music from all these different countries. So it’s still a term that’s a little difficult to put in a box in a way.
John Gardner: Very much so. And when y’all we’re coming up, even Flamenco being outside of Costa Rican culture, that’s different. But both of you mentioned music from the US and the UK, what was your kind of relationship with that music? It was international, it was from elsewhere, right?
Jorge Strunz: Exactly, international, that’s what it was. Because our backgrounds, both Ardeshir’s and mine, were largely international. I was raised in many different countries. And Ardeshir also, you know, had a long experience in England. And so, our music was very internationalized. Our- the way we thought about music was internationalized already so we had to find a way of expressing ourselves that made sense to domestic audiences but also made sense to us in a way. So- and I think we were quite fortunate to find an open- really open ears, here in this country, to have the success we have had.
Ardeshir Farah: That’s right, that’s true.
John Gardner: And Ardeshir, in Iran when you were growing up, what was the popular Iranian music? I know the Beatles were taking over the international music, what was popular Iranian music at the time?
Ardeshir Farah: Well there was a number of very popular Iranian singers, I was familiar with their music. Well I- my mother’s side of the family all married Americans and Germans; I had an American step-father and my mother’s sister had an American husband and then her two brothers were married to Germans so there was a lot of, you know, international influence in the family from childhood.
John Gardner: I see.
Ardeshir Farah: And we listened to a lot of music through that, you know, coming from outside from Europe and America. And popular music, there was a singer his name was Viguen, who was extremely popular, he played electric guitar, just accompanying himself. And that was the first guitar I ever saw at the age of 4 or 5, in his hands. He was an Armenian-Iranian, extremely popular at the time. And he would- he would take ideas from American singers from the time and compose the Persian versions with the Persian voice and then a few other people that followed him. That’s basically what I remember that was happening.
John Gardner: I love hearing- both of you mentioned the first times that you saw a guitar, became cognisant of a guitar, and from this vantage it’s so just, it’s almost exciting picturing you two who become master’s, I mean just master’s of the instrument just for the first time seeing it. It’s just exciting, the visual of 5 year old Ardeshir seeing a guitar and just this many decades later what you’ve done with the instrument. Same for you Jorge, in that shop with your uncle just looking up and saying, “I want that”. What would’ve happened if you had pointed at the accordion or something? We would’ve been having a totally different conversation, you know! Laughs
Jorge Strunz: Laughs
Ardeshir Farah: I did start with the accordion.
Jorge Strunz: Ardeshir has something about that! Laughs
John Gardner: Really! Did you really! That was your first instrument?
Ardeshir Farah: That was my first instrument. But, you know, it’s just not an attractive instrument. It’s like, you know, you hang it on and it’s like, you know, you have a fat belly. And if you carry it, I tried- from the eyes of a young 10 year old, the guitar was just the perfect instrument, very attractive, especially the electric guitar, the red colors and all of that. After playing the accordion, which was a very popular instrument in all bands before the Beatles came to Iran. I said, “No, no this is not my instrument.” And plus I just didn’t- just wasn’t getting it and wasn’t getting around to playing as good as some of the kids that were playing like you know Eastern European songs and classical compositions and really well and I was not getting it. I was trying to play Czardas on the accordion and was not getting it properly with the left hand. I thought, “you know what, I need to change an instrument” and for about a year thought about that and thought of many instruments and finally guitar was definitely the answer.
John Gardner: That’s amazing. Thank you so much for spending time with us, I love to- I could talk yo y’all all day. But we’re gonna into a lightning round, we’re gonna wrap up the interview with just 4 or 5 really basic, easy questions. No times for elaboration. But before that, I want to find out, what do y’all have in the works? We know your album’s out now, fantastic album. Are y’all making plans, any projects in the future that we should know about?
Jorge Strunz: We are currently working on some new things. We just started a new project so we’re in the editing stages, that is to say choosing the first few tunes, it’s still in its mason stages. So we’re- we’re looking at the first 3 or 4 tunes at this point, or pieces, between how well it might work. We’re looking at them, recording some parts of them and then going forward from there to the rest of the album. So we’re just in the beginning stages of a new recording basically but we look forward getting, you know, 10 new pieces of material out by next year, or by the middle of next year I should say.
John Gardner: That’s exciting, something to look out for. Y’all don’t waste any time.
Jorge Strunz: Well it takes so long to do this stuff cause it takes a while. So, it’s a long process in many ways. So, the rule is to start as soon as possible cause it always takes longer than you think. There’s a rest period after you’ve done any major amount of work, like in any project. So, there’s always material building up both from times past to current times that are initial ideas, older ideas that need revisiting. So, there’s always plenty to look at and work on. It’s a matter of really just going through the editing process and choosing something to work on that kicks up the initial stages of the work.
John Gardner: Thank you for that insight into y’alls process. So, to end up- to finish up, we’ll just do- we call it just a lightning round. It’s real just straight to the point questions and answers, we’ll keep them pretty brief. Some of these we’ll do both, some I’ll just pick one of you to go with. Let’s just do 4 questions. So, to start with real easy, what’s your favorite foods? For both of you?
Jorge Strunz: Favorite foods, that’s a good question. I’ll let Ardeshir go first.
Ardeshir Farah: Laughs Well I tend to look at food more in a healthy way, you know, at this point in my life. So, it’s varied food, it’s very delicious I don’t go for the foods such as Persian food because it’s too rich. So I stick to chicken, you know any form of chicken just that it’s done well, and vegetables and salad basically. That’s- try to keep my head in that department as much as I can.
Jorge Strunz: That sounds good. I’m the same way I think. I don’t eat red meat at all, I eat chicken occasionally. My wife and I eat vegetables most of the time, we’re big on salad and soups. And we eat cheese’s and stuff like that, some- basically that. I don’t think I have a big favorite among them. I like them all. I like rice and beans which is a classic Tropical American, black beans that is.
John Gardner: Gotta appreciate gallo pinto.
Jorge Strunz: Gallo pinto, exactly! And also, I love yuca which is cassava, you know, it’s very big in the tropics. Whenever I can get that, I like to eat it.
John Gardner: Right on. This one just for Ardeshir, what’s been on your mind lately?
Ardeshir Farah: The project that we’re recording, the gigs that are coming up, rehearsing. And I’ve started teaching, you know, for the last year, intermediate students. I’ve been teaching them scales and you know, basic scales and how to get around the neck. Mostly more just getting them involved in the guitar, being involved with the guitar as much as I can.
John Gardner: That’s great.
Ardeshir Farah: That would be the main portion of it.
John Gardner: Right on. And for both of you, what do you like to do outside of music?
Jorge Strunz: Well in my case, I’m a big reader. I love reading, lately it’s been Victorian English literature. I mean I think I’ve read everything that Trollope ever wrote, Dickens, George Eliot, everybody. I mean I just devour books, I don’t know, I can read very fast and I just love reading those novels. Also, I like reading about DNA, the DNA studies, ancient DNA. David Reich wrote a book, I found it very interesting. So I do a lot of reading basically. And I like listening to classical music.
John Gardner: And Ardeshir, what do you like?
Ardeshir Farah: I try to listen to all kinds of music I can find on YouTube. Different types of ethnic music and also do a lot walking and hiking and biking, to keep in shape.
John Gardner: Very nice.
Ardeshir Farah: And search the internet for anything, anything new. Instruments, effects, bands, guitar players, music, news. Laughs
John Gardner: Great, basically what we try to do at the World Music Foundation. Get all that information out there as well, laugh, I’m glad there’s people searching for that kind of thing. The last question, Jorge I’m gonna put you on the spot, cause it’s kind of-
Jorge Strunz: Uh-huh
John Gardner: It can be kind of hard to get. I think I’m just not good at describing this question but for some reason, I just like it. If you could know the full answer to any question in the world, like you can just ask it to the Universe and you would know the full answer, you’d be able to act on that answer. What would be your one question?
Jorge Strunz: My goodness that’s a very good question, I don’t know about that so I’m going to tread lightly. Is the universe infinite?
John Gardner: Hhm. Right on, yeah that’s a thing with those questions, the implications. That’s great. I appreciate y’all so much.
Jorge Strunz: Thank you so much, John, for your interest in our music and-
Ardeshir Farah: Yeah, John.
Jorge Strunz: It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.
Ardeshir Farah: Certainly been enjoying the conversation.
John Gardner: Thank you.
Jorge Strunz: All right, John.
(Outro Music Plays):
John Gardner: Well, that’s what it’s all about right there. Did you hear Jorge talk about how they bring their backgrounds and cultures into their solos and then you need to follow the rules of the music you’re improvising within. That took me immediately back to the conversation, episode 1, with David Pietro, where he said the one ingredient you can add that no one else can to the music, is yourself. So, listen to Tales of Two Guitars, the latest album by Strunz and Farah, find links on our website WMFPodcast.org/5. Here what they do when they combine their cultures, it’s amazing.
Also, I’m gonna ask you to do one thing. If you made it this far into the episode, that means you’re a pretty hardcore music fan. I want you to share it with who you think is your most hardcore music fan friend. Turn them on to this podcast, share what you learned here. Don’t forget to listen widely. Open ears equals open minds. And, we’ll see you next time.
For The Extra Curious
Strunz & Farah’s new studio recording, Tales of Two Guitars, is the latest chapter in the continuing story of the two virtuoso guitarists who have created an original and enduring body of guitar music. Rhythmic and colorful, and recorded with 11 guest musicians, Tales is a musical storybook of a fully evolved style of playing and composing which has been highly influential among guitarists everywhere. The new recording has 13 original pieces, full of contrasts both compositionally and instrumentally, ranging from rhythmic to romantic to jazz, incorporating in varying degrees their classic mix of Latin, Middle Eastern and Jazz influences.
0:16 Strunz & Farah
2:21 Vittorio Monti – Csárdás
2:25 Hungarian Gypsy music
2:28 Paco De Lucia
5:16 The Beatles
7:39 Jazz Fusion
10:49 Surf Music
11:04 The Animals
11:34 The Ventures
11:36 The Shadows
11:40 Cliff Richard
12:21 Persian Music
14:18 Carlos Montoya
14:39 Mario Escudero
14:57 Electra Records
16:05 Pete Seeger
16:08 The Kingston Trio
16:10 Peter, Paul and Mary
16:48 America Folk
17:35 RCA Victor Records
17:37 ABC Paramount
17:39 Bob Theile
17:44 John Coltrane
18:27 John McLaughlin
18:29 Mahavishnu Orchestra
18:30 Chick Corea
18:33 Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
19:09 Capitol Records
20:14 Indian Music
20:15 Harihar Rao
20:20 Ravi Shankar
20:24 L. Subramaniam
20:37 Richard Bock
20:47 Jean-Luc Ponty
20:48 Wes Montgomery
20:54 Fantasy/Milestone Records
21:58 Luis Conte
22:07 Mosaico (album)
22:30 Ganesh Records
22:47 Persian Musicians
22:54 Frontera (album)
22:55 Manoochehr Sadeghi
23:04 Guitarras (album)
23:33 Mirage (song)
24:11 Jazz Fusion
24:20 Persian rhythms
24:21 Persian melodies
24:34 Reng (song)
24:37 Manoochehr Sadeghi
24:38 Majid Ghorbani
24:40 Randy Tico
24:40 Bass guitar
24:50 Mirage (song)
24:53 Iranian Percussion
25:04 Persian āvāz
26:27 Tale of Two Guitars (Album)
26:42 Folk (Persian)
26:43 Pop (Persian)
26:44 Keyavash Nourai
27:22 Ethnic Persian modal
28:48 Kayhan Kalhor
28:54 Yo-Yo Ma
28:55 Silk Road Ensemble
29:01 Hossein Alizadeh
29:44 Sahba Motallebi
31:01 El Regalito (song)
32:46 Latin America
33:09 Diego Alvarez
34:07 Juanito “Long John” Oliva
35:44 Hubert Laws
35:45 Stanley Clarke
35:46 Katisse Buckingham
40:34 ABA Structure
43:31 Wild Muse (album)
43:36 Camino Real
43:54 Nengue Hernandez
45:01 Carlitos Del Puerto
45:18 Chick Corea
45:19 Barbra Streisand
45:47 Thomas Brooman
45:48 World Music
47:29 Mosaico (album)
48:54 Primal Magic (album)
48:57 Américas (album)
51:28 Iranian Music
56:22 Tales of Two Guitars (album)