It all started when an Iranian rug maker named Hamed Derakhshar decided to look for a guitar teacher. At first, all he expected to learn were some corny riffs to wow the ladies, but when he met singer and guitarist Pouya Mahmoodi, what developed was a partnership that Derakhshar hoped would transform the way people regarded Iranian music.
Drawing inspiration from such hard rock icons as Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, Mahmoodi had delved into Western guitar playing for themes that were pertinent to his native country. “When I met him and when he played for me, I immediately fell in love with his music,” Derakhshar recalls. “The way he played the electric guitar and the way he fused his rock guitar with Iranian music was just unbelievable.” The pitfall—or perk, depending on your outlook—was that many Iranians found Mahmoodi’s music so culturally inclusive as to be “too Western” for domestic release. On top of that, making a living as a musician in Iran is no picnic.
With all this in mind, Derakhshar took the reins. After organizing an eight-city tour of Switzerland, he prompted Mahmoodi to begin work on his worldwide debut Mehr the two managed to record the whole album in six days. The music is invigorating: Mahmoodi plays his guitar with a subdued edge, with notes that are soft and pulsating. Although his voice is less than virtuoso, he sings with a quiet, languorous quality that works in the album’s favor —at times, the music recalls a stylized spiritual prayer, with “Raz O Niaz” being a key example. At other times, it surges with a bizarre, lulling energy: “Niayesh” has a certain swing to it that resembles elevator music on caffeine.
An innovator far ahead of his time, Mehr is a revelation. It’s music that has the power to place you in a deep hypnotic trance, no matter where you come from.