It’s Ultra Music Festival time, and the kids are back with their short shorts, fishnet stockings and lollipops to let loose for a few days in Downtown Miami. We took some pictures as Ultramiami kicks off, and thousands descend on the Magic City for their annual EDM ritual.
Once in a while, you get lucky in Miami. No, not that kind of lucky; the kind that lets you escape the ubiquitous flashiness and frivolous pursuits that characterize our touristy enclave. Last night, at the North Miami Beach Bandshell, everyone got lucky and witnessed a virtuoso performance by acclaimed Iranian musician, Sahba Motallebi, who was accompanied on stage by Naghmeh Farahmand, an accomplished percussionist trained by her father, Mahmoud Farahmand, considered a master of ancient Persian drum music in Iran.
Motallebi’s story is one of resilience in the face of religious and gender bias in her country, which she left in 2003 to pursue graduate studies. Although her supreme talent was recognized by winning the Best Tar Player award in the Iran Music Festival for four consecutive years, the graduate of the Tehran Conservatory of Music was impeded from continuing her studies as a result of being part of Iran’s largest non-Muslim minority, the Bahá’í. The fact that she was also breaking into the traditionally male-dominated world of Tar playing, made her advancement that much more difficult. At the age of 27, she left Iran for Russia, and later Turkey to further her musical education. Motallebi would eventually emigrate to the United States, where she resides today with her husband and two daughters.
Beyond the strings
Sahba Motallebi travels the world performing her beautiful compositions for the Tar, which means “string” in Persian, and is one of the oldest known musical instruments. The Tar is both the literal and linguistic ancestor of the guitar (gui-tar), which was brought to Spain by gypsies, and is the direct progenitor of Flamenco and other rich musical traditions of the Iberian Peninsula.
In a recent interview with the Miami New Times, Motallebi said that she sees herself as an ambassador for Iranian culture: “Naghmeh Farahmand and I are trying to introduce audiences to Iran through our music.” As well as a role model for Iranian women: “They are going to see me as a person that is going to talk on their behalf, on behalf of women who don’t have civil rights.”
Her passion for music and learning has led Motallebi to impart her knowledge through online instructional materials, which she does whenever she’s not on tour. Fortunately for us, she came to our little slice of dubstep hell, and graced the audience at the outdoor beach venue with a magical and inspiring performance many won’t soon forget. The first piece of the concert is presented in the video, and if you find yourself wishing you could listen to the rest of the show, all I can say is, better luck next time.
Every city has something that sets it apart, an intangible quality that makes people want to stay forever or leave immediately. It is determined as much by geography as it is by its culture and for Miami, this quality is youth. Miami is a perennial teenager. Immature but beautiful. Full of potential but infuriatingly trite.
The sun is always shining and even when it rains the big, warm drops hug you like a Cuban grandmother. The humidity is legendary, but it’s only really a problem when stepping out of the airport to hail a cab. The rest of Miami is nearly 100% air conditioned. In short, there’s very little to complain about, climatologically speaking, in Miami. Like all teenagers, however, people in Miami complain almost incessantly and loudly.
Whether it has to do with corrupt city officials and politicians, the incompetent yet costly public transportation system, unaffordable housing or the increasingly horrible traffic, Miami does have legitimate issues to bitch about. Miami natives and adopted cousins from around the world complain, not in order to solve the problems per se. Like all youngsters they have an ulterior motive and that motive is to remove all obstacles to keep doing what they love to do more than anything else: party.
Hey, Mr. DJ
Naturally, every good teenage party needs a DJ and there are no shortage of them in the tri-county area. The Miami music scene is probably the only one in the world that doesn’t include actual musicians and with good reason, since learning an instrument requires discipline and patience; qualities rarely found in adolescents.
But a skilled DJ can do what few trained musicians can on their own. They can have thousands of people dancing to the point of ecstasy, give or take a few pills. The throbbing beats and tantric rhythms of a well-put-together set can generate a mesmerizing energy, enveloping an entire room - or stadium - in a state of complete rapture.
Electronic Dance Music or EDM caters to a certain age group, regardless of the actual chronological age of its fans. It’s for kids, the young at heart and those who want to escape responsibility, if only for a brief moment. Miami, therefore, should rightfully be considered the mecca of EDM because it is a place where all of that is possible.
The Ultra Music Festival was not only born in Miami, it is Miami. The bright, fluorescent clothing; the youthful exuberance; the classic sense of invincibility and the juvenile flirting techniques all bear the mark of a city that will never grow up because it doesn’t have to. The sun will keep shining, the water will stay warm and the party will go on.