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Mahsa Vahdat & SKRUK // Braids of innocence // CD

Mahsa Vahdat & SKRUK // Braids of innocence // CD

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The album that became part of the Iranian women’s struggle for freedom

Mahsa Vahdat and SKRUK: “Braids of innocence”. Harp: Ellen Bødtker

When the new CD project with Mahsa Vahdat and SKRUK was about to be recorded in the summer of 2022, Mahsa proposed the title “Braids of innocence”. Little did she know then how explosive this title would come to be in light of events in her homeland Iran just some months later.

The roots of the title are found in an incident from Mahsa’s childhood which one of the texts tells us about. She was 11 years old and about to visit her uncle who had been imprisoned in Teheran for political activities. This was a few years after the Islamic revolution, and it had become compulsory for all females from age 9 and up to wear a headdress. The same morning Mahsa’s mother had made a cluster of braids in the girl’s thick hair. When they came to the prison and met her uncle who was sitting behind a glass wall with some tens of other prisoners, the mother managed to surreptitiously show the uncle Mahsa’s braids, and for the imprisoned men the glimpse they had of the braids was like a ray of freedom. 

The Iranian musicians Mahsa Vahdat and Atabak Elyasi have worked on this project for three years for Mahsa and SKRUK and the harpist Ellen Bødtker. Mahsa has written the melodies, Atabak has written poems and arrangements and additional melodies for the choir, and the producer Erik Hillestad has rendered the poems into English. Mahsa, SKRUK and the publisher, KKV, agreed in the summer to use the exquisitely subtle title “Braids of innocence” for the album. Everyone saw it as somewhat special, but also as an original and exciting source of curiosity. But that was before 18 September when Mahsa Amini was murdered by the morality police in Tehran because her veil did not adequately cover her braids. This act ignited a rage in the hearts and fed the yearning for freedom of an entire generation of Iranian women. And braids also became a symbol, a freedom flag for women around the globe. It also instantly made Mahsa Vahdat’s and SKRUK’s album a rallying manifesto, an explosive comment on the streaming news this autumn.

In Mahsa’s words: “The project acquired a new dimension as the events in my home country of Iran were commented on so directly by both the title and the content of the songs we had recorded. The performance of my art has always been driven by the constant ambition to use my expressive power to raise awareness and kindle hope against suffering and injustice, so for me this project has been extra important”.

“Braids of innocence” also features several other songs that are highly relevant for the world’s first revolution led by women, the struggle for freedom being fought in Iran: “The tyrants will lose”, “I came free”, “Wakeful night”, and the opening track “A thousand birds will chant your song” are all poems and melodies that cut right to the heart of this issue. Two other poets are also featured on the record: the classic Rumi and the contemporary poet Mohammad Ibrahim Jafari.

Mahsa and Atabak call themselves “liberal traditionalists”, and the music on the album is thus a special genre. SKRUK’s conductor, Per Oddvar Hildre describes it as tonal paintings. Ellen Bødtker’s harp is the centre point for the soloist’s and choir’s sound palette, where Atabak’s harmonies break with most rules for choral arrangements. The overriding effect is both unusual and exquisitely beautiful. It is also a torch lighting the way for how the Western countries should address the on-going protests and the Iranian regime’s abusive treatment of its own people. 

The album was recorded in Volda Church in August 2022 by Alf Christian Hvidsteen.

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