Reviewed By Jason Simpson
Pharaway Sounds is a new re-issue label that has been on fire since their inception in 2011. ‘Tisheh O Risseh’ is their fifth LP, and the third to feature Iranian pop, funk, and psychedelia from Pre-Revolutionary Iran. Several of the acts on "Tisheh O Risheh" have shown up on previous entries "Zendooni" and "Khana Khana", the first time they have been made available to an English speaking audience. The folks at Pharaway Sounds must eat, sleep, and breathe exotic vinyl, trawling glitzy middle-eastern club mixes to unearth solid gold soul. Pharaway Sounds stand to be just as well-known as fellow diggers like Finders Keepers, Sublime Frequences, or The Numero Group.
Shahram Shabpareh (appearing here as just Shahram) gets things started right with "Asheghi Ham Hadi Dare:; a fine slab of robo-discofunk, full of sunbaked hand-percussion and string stabs in a minor mode. There’s a horn interlude that sounds remarkably like bagpipes, and the misplaced temporality of ‘Asheghi’ leaves you feeling like you're standing at a transcontinental crossroads - of both time and space, seemingly Scottish, Italian, African, and Iranian, all at once. A fine jambalaya!
Looking into Shahram lets the listener know what they’re in for: obscure websites in arabic, full of hairy-chested gold-chained individuals, many of these prolific composers have not even made their way to Discogs.com, apart from their scant contributions to crate digging compilations such as these. Shahram has appeared on a number of compilations recently; the exotica diggers are starting to dig him up. It looks like "Asheghi Ham Hadi Dare" originally appeared on 1980’s Gorg Va Bareh, although its hard to say definitively. The sleuth-work is half of the fun, when writing about albums like this, and it makes you wonder where Pharaway Sounds dug this shit up from to begin with. Damn, we all need to get a life...
Beti appears twice on here: "Nazr" is mostly serpentine movie-house organs, persian silk percussion and snake charmer vocals. It's hypnotic and sultry, begin planning your next seduction now. The hook sounds like it's running out of time or energy, perhaps falling into a pit of lava, doomed to re-incarnation, starting all over. I like the sixties dust of the wheezy organ, there’s a flea market/bazaar quality to these sounds that mark them ‘other’, that makes this whole record seem trippily psychedelic and mind-boggling.
"Khooneh Kaleh" is far more futuristic, full of flying saucers and zapping lasers; what it might sound like if the Close Encounters aliens had descended upon a street-market in Marrakesh. It's got that Ethiopiques, rolling polyrhythmic funk that thrills and delights the discerning digger. Those that have been craving more international espionage and romance in their lives will love the cardamon spice of Beti’s tracks. I couldn’t find much information on the artist, not sure if it’s a ‘she’ or a ‘they’, but her tracks have been popping up on re-issue comps the past couple of years, it seems the cognoscenti are catching on to her charms.
"Nasim-E Yaar" by Soli is 60s psychedelic elevator music: think Canned Heat playing with Funkadelic. This is one of the ‘straightest’ (ie. ‘whitest’ or ‘most western’) of the bunch, full of Moroder brass and hard-hitting breakdrumming. The slurring, half-time hook is tight and thrilling, and refreshing to hear, after a billion hours of tightly-quantized machine music. Loose and precise as a drunken sniper; unleash this at your next Bollywood night.
The segue into "Pichak" by Noosafharin is smooth and flawless, revealing Pharaway Sounds to be mixtape masters and expert curators. "Pichak" has nearly the exact same flute part as "Nasim...", far out cosmic 70s exotica that must’ve been en vogue when this was coming out. Its got a spanish flamenco feel, complete with desert brass. The song is pretty skeletal; bongos, flute, trumpet, little guitar, all behind THAT VOICE. Fatima Abdi Golangashi is probably the closest thing to a superstar featured on this comp, the one with the most information available, anyway. She emigrated to India, after the revolution in 1979, and is now part of a community of Iranian expatriates living and working in Southern California. Her catalog is full of dusty gems, rife for mining.
Amir Rassie delivers the title track, "Tisheh O Risheh", funk staccato guitars and more funky bongoes (egads these folks loved their bongoes. Its like a coffeehouse on a wed. night here). Some sweet guitar leads and theremin-lite synthesizer that sounds like space flutes or the rings of Saturn, underscore Rassie’s plaintive vocals. The title track is outshone by Neli’s "Ki Bood", the least exotica-sounding of the bunch, full of soaring disco strings and crunchy middle-eastern beats. This is like a Muslimgauze remix of an Italo soundtrack for a Lollywood film, as multicultural and confusing as that sounds. Its not; its delicious. This would be an excellent place to train your ears towards microtonal sitars and complex polyrhythms, practice a few choreographed dance moves.
Habib Mohebian brings us acid folk fusion with "Maadar": pastoral acoustic guitars smoothly rippling over cheap synths, sick breakbeats, wordless cooing, and silky bass. It sounds remarkably Pentangle-like, coming from half-a-continent away. Man, they would fuse ANYTHING in the ‘70s! Seriously, though, this is a beautiful track, not kitschy in the slightest. The dated sounds may jar some ears, but most likely anyone reading this will have long since acclimated to archaic synthesizers and incomprehensible vocals, so you should be able to appreciate the splendour.
Shahreh Solati weighs in with some Anatolian cha-cha: there’s that jazzenflaut doubling the horns again, the soaring strings and ceaseless bongoes. The bongoes! The bongoes! This sounds like Indian ska. Solati’s got a lovely voice, but 8 tracks in, the ears get slightly numb to the similarities of some of the material. This album is probably meant to be dissected by DJs and beat-makers; only hardened Persian exoticists (and album reviewers) will listen to this from start to finish. Due to the high standards of when this material was originally aired means even the merely passable all have incredibly high production values and performances. There’s nary a misplaced note on the entire affair, try to avoid the exotica blues of ‘this all sounds the same’ and pay attention to the details.
It would be madness to expound upon every track on here, and I don’t think it’s really necessary; you should hear it for yourself. Discofiends, sample-hounds, cocktail-party stoners and ethnomusicologists will all find plenty to sink their fangs into. Most of the material on this record sounds like some variation of traditional Persian music, mixed with futuristic Disco or acid-fried funk. It ranges from nearly authentic to almost insultingly stereotypical. "Dige Base" by Afshin Shad, "Baroone Bahari" by Fereidoon Farrokhzad And Mahnaz, and album closer "Eshghe To" by Gita are all noteworthy contributors to the tail-end of this party.
Listening to, and writing about, this obscure branch of musical history has been fascinating. Trying to unearth information on the artists featured on "Tisheh O Risheh" will lead you down a wormhole of arabic websites, lo-fi mp3 sites and Wiki articles on the Iranian revolution. I love it when journalism intersects with zeitgeist and psychogeography, and we can hear the spirits of the seventies trapped on wax like living amber. Several of the artists I discovered via "Tisheh O Risheh" have worked their way into my daily listening habits, mainly Nooshafarin and Gita. I love the sci-fi synths mixed with tribal percussion! It reminds me of an ancient ritual, designed to summon the starseed. Ancient and modern, just how I like it.
Find it here.