Indo-Persian musical group Chahar Bagh performed at the MultiCultural Center Theater on Jan. 26, exploring musical narratives through the “Fourfold Garden.” 

Chahar Bagh is a multicultural musical project that fuses Indo-Persian style santoor and sitar instrumentals and percussion, according to the show’s description. Nexus File Photo

Chahar Bagh is a multicultural musical project that fuses Indo-Persian style santoor and sitar instrumentals and percussion, according to the show’s description. 

In our repertoire, we showcase original compositions that seamlessly blend melodies, rhythms, and improvisations from the musical traditions of Iran and India.”  Performer Ehsan Matoori said.

Alongside santoor player and composer Ehsan Matoori, the band consists of sitar player and composer Rajib Karmakar, cello player Aidin Ahmadinejad and percussion player Randy Gloss. They were also accompanied by guest vocalist Maliheh Moradi. 

The project’s name stems from a Farsi phrase that translates to “four gardens.” Introduced to Persia in the sixth century, Chahar Bagh is a garden layout meant to promote harmony with nature. 

“It refers to a specific garden design characterized by a quadrilateral layout, divided into four highly structured sections, highlighting balance and harmony,” Matoori said. “These four divisions may symbolize various elements such as the four rivers of paradise, the four seasons or the four stages of life.” 

The show began with a Chumash land acknowledgment and expanded as an interactive experience that spans multiple concentrations. 

“Beyond presenting musical pieces, we explore the historical and cultural contexts, aiming for a deeper understanding and connection with the audience,” Matoori said.

The concept of four gardens was a thematic centerpiece for the show. Each section was preceded by an explanation of its concept and contained two songs. The pieces were accompanied by corresponding lighting in red, green, purple and blue. 

As described on Matoori’s website, the third movement, “Garden of Humanity,” integrates different cultural elements to “capture the essence of unity.” The “Fourfold Garden” featured the songs “Brahma” and “Untouched.” Garden of Love hosted “Dela” and “Chashm-e Bimar” and featured melodies to “emphasize emotions of love, romance and connection,” according to the website.  

Every piece in the show was composed by Matoori or Karmakar. During intermissions, the duo discussed their composition process. 

For Karmakar, the development of a piece is an intricate process. 

Collaboration is a process that involves breaking free of one’s comfort zone and attempting to view things from a different perspective. Once this is done, the artist can return to their own work and evaluate what fits with the current flow of the project,” he said. 

The second half of the show commenced with “Garden of Wisdom.” Inviting reflection, the section consisted of pieces “Chahar Bagh” and “Isfahan Istanbul.” The show concluded with the Garden of Freedom and consisted of, “The Call” and “Freedom Story” to evoke, “a sense of liberation, empowerment and openness,” according to the website.  

According to MultiCultural Center (MCC) Program Coordinator Micky Brown, Chahar Bagh aligned with the center’s mission. 

“It was a joyful example of the connections between Persian, Iranian and Indian cultures. The santoor represents Persia and the sitar represents India. Together, their harmony almost makes it sound like they were meant to be together.” Brown said.  “The mission of the MCC is to build solidarity between communities, and this performance demonstrated how that can be done through creative and musical endeavors.”

The performance was interactive through the encouragement of dance and cheers. 

My favorite moments were when the performers, particularly Ehsan Matoori and Rajib Karmakar, were smiling, laughing and clearly having fun on stage. It was infectious, and I’m sure the crowd felt it, too,” Brown said. 

Brown described the show as unique due to its production size and technicality. 

“In my time at the MCC, we have not put on a concert of this scale, with five performers on stage all playing different instruments. This is a technical and logistical challenge, but as event organizers, we plan for this with a lengthy and thorough sound check. The performers arrived more than four hours before the start of the performance so that we could get everything perfect,” Brown said.

The performance was met with a standing ovation at its final song, “The Garden of Freedom.” 

“The last movement, the ‘Garden of Freedom,’ was very beautiful and moving, especially when the guest singer, Maliheh Moradi, joined in,” Brown said.