In my blog yesterday I said that I was going to write a series of blogs featuring each one of the compositions performed on the 'Looking Forward' concert last month in turn. (You can download the full concert programme here.)
I’m delighted to start with the first piece on the programme, Asta Boro, a gorgeous traditional Afghan wedding song orchestrated by composer, arranger and conductor, Mohsen Saifi. Saifi explained to me that this piece is traditionally performed when the newly wed bride and groom are presented to the guests at the wedding hall and is sung from the perspective of the father of the groom.
The song gently invites the newly-weds to ‘walk’ or ‘pace’ slowly with regard to the most memorable moments of their life and encourages them to try to create as much love as possible between them.
The song’s poem bids the couple to be patient with the words: "During the journey of life (love) you don't have to hurry and pass from it quickly. Try to pace slowly and enjoy it as much as you can. The moments of love never should be missed." (Saifi's translation of original Persian).
Saifi’s elegant orchestration invites exactly this sort of reflection. Beginning with a light pizzicato in the bass, silvery notes on the glockenspiel follow underpinned with soft strings. The violins offer an introductory melodic phrase that sets up the gentle 7/8 feel which runs throughout the piece.
After the introduction, the tablā enters playing a light taal-e moghuli (a 7/8-time rhythmic framework which is particularly important in Afghan music) and winds and brass enter accompanying the rubāb, dutār, harmonium and sitār, as the individual voices of these instruments are featured in turn. A beautiful flourish at the end dissolves back into stillness. Take a listen to an excerpt of the piece here:
To our knowledge this is the first time a purely instrumental and orchestral version of Asta Boro has been written and performed. It is hoped that in this form the music, its history and meaning can be given additional wings and be heard in new contexts.