Babak Amiri and his band of musical omnivores perform contemporary songs with elements of jazz, fado, Persian chanson, all to a rhythm of inspiring poetic lyrics.
Babak-o-Doestan is an Amsterdam based acoustic ensemble of musicians from three continents led by singer-guitarist-composer Babak Amiri. With apparent ease they unite multiple styles and moods in their music, using an uncommon but effective combination of instruments. Catchy jazzy themes and Latiny vibes are added to the mix of lush melodies and rare chord progressions, creating an open, sparkly sound that is appealing to diverse audiences.
The evening unfolded like an intimate musical concert with friends: emotional, exuberant, then dreamy and unassuming. – C. Verkerk, Het Parool
Longing and melancholy, passion and excitement, and enthusiasm stirring an irresistible urge to dance are all characteristics of this ensemble’s music. These elements have their roots in rich, timeless Persian poetry, with all its tributes to wine, universal wisdom and love that inspire the atmosphere and lyrics of each of the songs. The result is heartfelt ‘Persian chansons’ transmitted through the soulful quality of Amiri’s voice.
Babak-o-Doestan has played for enthusiastic audiences at such diverse venues as Paradiso/Amsterdam Roots Festival, Panama, Van Gogh Museum ‘Friday Night’, at Hessel’s Groene Weide on Terschelling Island, and the Utrecht Stadsschouwburg. The band has made two recent appearances on Dutch national television, including one 30 minute special which included the performance of three pieces with interviews in between. Babak-o-Doestan also performs on radio programs such as OBA Live, Concertzender and NTR radio. Past collaborations with Mišo Petrović of Mostar Sevdah Reunion from Bosnia, musician and storyteller Sahand Sahebdivani (NLD/IRN) and jazz pianist Avishai Darash (ISR/FRA) have enriched the band’s performance and musical development. Babak-o-Doestan’s latest album ‘Restless’ was listed in the ‘Top 10 Albums of the Year’ (world music) at Platomania/Concerto and garnered warm reviews from Dutch and German music critics.
Until 2017, the fulltime percussionist of Babak-o-Doestan was the amazing Minze Koopman, leading to a new formation. Since then Babak-o-Doestan has been developing repertoire and performing as a trio with guitar/voice, piano and cello. The new trio was featured at the Festival Internacional de Vila Flor in Portugal. The trio gives concerts and has developed a lively and expressive programme of songs and poetry suitable for theaters.
Babak Amiri (IRN) – voice/guitar/composition
Bam Commijs (NLD) – piano
Heather Leslie (CAN) – cello
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They hypnotized us with their sound, the beautiful voice and guitar of Babak, dressed with the soothing sound of Heather’s cello, spiced with Minze’s rhythm and Murat’s bass blend, and topped with Bam’s piano play. Again we were in awe. A must hear! – Acoustic Roots, Concertzender Radio
The story of how the musicians met…
Singer/guitarist/composer Babak Amiri comes from Tehran. As a teenager he loved playing guitar and all kinds of (forbidden) music styles, although it was dangerous to go out anywhere with his western instrument visible to authorities – At 18 he figured out he needed to leave, he crossed a mountain range and ended up studying and graduating from a prestigious Dutch art college (Rietveld Academy), while playing in fado bands, writing poetry and being involved in a whole range of musical projects.
In Babak-o-Doestan, Amiri sings poetic texts in Persian and composes the music, which the musicians in the band contribute to with arrangements and solos. He not only leads the band, he also does the cool album art.
Amiri met percussionist Minze Koopman around 2005, and introduced him to “world music”. Koopman had been previously playing for years in the rock, pop and country circuit in the Netherlands. (An interview with MK appears in Nov-Dec 2013 issue of Slagwerkkrant – Dutch percussion magazine, issue No. 178.) They got together for a one-off gig for a festival, played 3 songs at a big Amsterdam nightclub called Panama. Those songs had a huge impact, so much so that the audience didn’t care that they hadn’t rehearsed more material, they demanded to hear the 3 songs all over again. This was a clear sign that they shouldn’t stop there, and they continued the musical collaboration…
Bam Commijs (piano) came along and brought with him the jazz, chansons and theater world influences as well as his improvisation and composition talents. Commijs is the master of musical storytelling, which is evident from his expressive piano solos.
Murat Yatmaz, a brilliant young jazz bass guitarist from Ankara, came for graduate studies at the esteemed Amsterdam Conservatory and soon joined the band. Yatmaz brings to the band his fantastic funky bass guitar lines and continually surprises you with his cool grooves and inspired solos which are influenced by his mastery of jazz and other genres like fusion, contemporary, drum and bass, electronic, Latin.
The final musician to join was cellist Heather Leslie. She plays a magical 100-year old gypsy cello, which is appropriate because she learned the most about music from playing with gypsies. The sevdah-like magic comes from the deep, warm tones of the instrument that emerge no matter what. She met Babak Amiri playing improv music at the enchanted Mezrab jam sessions that happened in the heart of Amsterdam’s Jordaan neighbourhood on Saturday nights (from around 2005-2010). When music was made in this postage-stamp sized venue, the audience was totally engaged and captivated by the music emerging from instruments and players sitting directly next to them. The big instrument cases were piled up in the men’s WC to free up more space in the venue for audience and musicians alike.
One of the unusual things about this band is the high level of collaboration on the stage, which audiences often mention that they admire to watch at the live performances. The musicians in Babak-o-Doestan are there to create the performance as a whole, they are not there just for themselves, which is clear in the way they support each other musically on stage. This is probably the reason that audiences get caught up not only in the music, but in the positive atmosphere that emerges at the gigs, allowing the melodies and the beats to flow into them all the more fluidly. Though since 2017 Babak-o-Doestan has been performing with two fewer doestan as a guitar/voice-piano-cello trio, the ability of the group to stir up good vibes among the audience has fortunately not disappeared.
The name Babak-o-Doestan (which means ‘Babak and Friends’ in Persian) somehow quite suits this group, even though history is full of more straightforward and easy-to-remember band names.
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