With incredibly palpable energy, Damahi celebrates their debut performance in London at Rich Mix as part of the EFG’s Jazz Festival.
The fusion band from the South of Iran blends local colour with a range of genres ranging from funk to rock; this unique combination of sounds is brought to the forefront of the Iranian music scene. Transcending domestic success, Damahi plays at a sold out concert for their London debut, implying that many within the Iranian diaspora are also aware of the band’s appeal.
Immediately, the dark and bouncy track ‘Jaddeh Laghzandast’ (The Road is Slippery) from their latest album Dar Man Boro Shekar (Go Hunting in Me) established the tone for the upcoming three hours of their performance: frontman Rena Koolaghani’s dancing and singing around the stage whislt accompanied by the harmonious band. The following performance of ‘Dard-E Bi Dardi’ (Pain without Pain) cemented their capacity for emotional breadth with a more sorrowful yet solid tone.
Koolaghani’s maintained breath control was as impressive as his energy to constantly engage with the crowd and give back what they were giving. This interface in which a difference made a difference was enhanced by the study bass of Dara Daraee, who was right there with him ensuring that their energy reached every single person in the venue.
Oscillating between tracks from their newest and debut album, Damahi’s setlist showcased their expansive sound, all the while grounded by the soulful oud playing of Ebrahim Alav. This instrumental motif connected the band’s identity back to West Asia throughout most of their songs. It’s noteworthy Koolaghani sung in a commonly spoken dialect in the Iranian south for standout songs like ‘Beman’ (Stay) and ‘Lenj O Biveh’ (The Ferry and the Widow), whilst Hamzeh Yeganeh’s keyboard playing and Shayan Fathi’s drumming played a recognisable bandari rhythmic progression (an Iranian music genre literally meaning ‘from the port’).
As the concert progressed, Damahi performed their more popular songs and coincidentally upbeat tracks. Songs like ‘Niyaz’ (A Need), ‘Divaneh’ (Madman), and ‘Sopper Estar-e Man’ (My Superstar) were highlights of the night, which encompassed the band’s ability to improvise unexpected twists on their own songs, their group chemistry in maintaining harmony with each other, and the back-and-forth synergy between them and the audience with the crowd joyously singing along whenever prompted to.
The momentous second half of the concert saw a shift in tone with the performance of ‘Mardan-E Mardaneh’ (Dying like a Man). In the preface, Koolaghani mentioned how dear the song is to him, and asked that the audience immerse themselves in the song and lyrics with an open-mind. Immediately, Alavi’s and Yeganeh’s opening notes established the profound tone of the piece. Fathi’s delicate drumming, Daraee’s supporting bass accompaniment, Alavi’s meticulous acoustic guitar strums and Yeganeh’s intimate keyboard provided an airy backdrop for Koolaghani’s hearty singing. The lyrics paint a haunting scene of a man who would rather shed his cowardice in pursuit of a better life, than die like a man—by his own hands, as Koolaghani demonstrated in his performance of a tightening noose.
The show ended with the same high energy that it started. And to the delight of the audience, Damahi returned onstage for an encore to perform 'Beman' (Stay) and 'Divaneh' (Madman) again, somehow topping the energetic performance from the first time round.
Indeed, their fun experimentation of genres and steadfast dedication to their Southern roots has cemented themselves as luminaries in the Iranian music scene today. Damahi have carved out a space for themselves in the listening habits of Iranians that is very welcomed, which is a fact even clearer to see live at their debut concert at EFG’s London Jazz Festival.
Edited by Music Editor, Akane Hayashi