Mamak Khadem





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Mamak Khadem has walked many roads in her remarkable life, from her childhood and youth in Tehran during a critical juncture in Iranian history, and her longtime work as an educator, to her acclaimed career as a singer, composer, and devoted advocate for cultural diversity, appreciation of Persian cultural traditions, and human rights. Called “one of the wonders of world trance music” by the Los Angeles Times, she has stunned audiences with her striking blend of classical Persian vocal style with diverse contemporary musical influences.

She found her powerful voice early on, singing with the Children’s Choir for National Radio and Television in Iran. But it wasn’t until after the Iranian Revolution, before which she’d already emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager in 1977, that her passion for singing ignited and she began to pursue a musical path in earnest. Inspired by the work of Persian master musicians, she seized every opportunity to deepen and broaden her vocal art, regularly traveling back to Iran over the years to study with some of the country’s finest master vocalists. She also studied classical Indian singing tradition at the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music in northern California and explored Eastern European vocal stylings during her tenure with the Los Angeles-based Balkan choir Nevenka.

While studying for her master’s degree in applied mathematics at CSULB, Khadem took on her first teaching job. She would go on to teach mathematics full-time for the next 18 years, working with students ranging in age from primary school to college, with particular emphasis on educating children with learning disabilities. She found that music helped her connect with her students, and often attended students’ gigs in order to forge stronger bonds.

While still teaching, she became a founding member of Axiom of Choice, the first Iranian fusion band to form abroad, who opened the way for subsequent musicians working in the style. Signed by Narada at Virgin Associated Labels/EMI, the band released three albums — Beyond Denial (Faray-e Enkaar) (1996), Niya Yesh (2000), and Unfolding (Goshayesh) (2002).

During this time, Khadem found herself increasingly disillusioned with the system, feeling there might be better ways to make a difference in kids’ lives. In 2003, she closed the chapter of her mathematics teaching career and she has never looked back. She released her first solo album, Jostojoo: Forever Seeking in 2007, followed by A Window to Color (2011) and The Road (2015).  Following her passion for new influences, with On The Road she explored stylistic traditions from Iran, Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Greece — traversing broad cultural terrain and searching for common threads. Potent traditional melodies remained a strong framework as she incorporated such elements of her Iranian heritage as the poetry of Rumi in order to re-imagine songs from another culture, time, and place with the extraordinary freedom of her creative vision.

Khadem has been an active member of many communities fomenting equal rights. Of particular importance are groups supporting women’s equality, children and education, immigrant justice, and gun control; and groups opposing political imprisonment, politically-motivated executions, and animal cruelty. She has worked with March for Our Lives, joining the victims and families of school shootings to oppose gun violence.

She has been outspoken on political topics as well. Devoted to connection, and invoking the historical precedent of the Iranian Revolution, Khadem opposes political entities that seek to divide peoples and cultures. Of the Trump travel ban, she stated, “It reminded me of how the Iranian students were treated here in the U.S. during the hostage crisis of 1979. Many students were insulted, deported, battered, and threatened. It took many years to forget and forgive those days and finally call myself an Iranian-American.”

Khadem has contributed to the advancement of music on a global scale, teaching classes and workshops in the U.S., Canada, Greece and Ireland. Not surprisingly, she believes musicians play a crucial role in the world of politics. “Music offers a language that is close to people’s hearts rather than their brains,” she said. “Music offers tools to break boundaries that politics has forced on us.”

She has appeared throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle East,  performing at such prestigious venues as Australia’s Perth Concert Hall; the Smithsonian in Washington DC; the Museum of Folk Instruments in Greece; the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance; Sziget Festival in Budapest; Ethno Jazz Festival in Wroclaw; the Voices of Women festival in Greece; Let Her Sing in San Francisco; the Mayo Civic Center in Minnesota; the House of Cultures in Berlin, and on the Los Angeles stages of the J. Paul Getty Museum; California Plaza Grand Performances;  Skirball Cultural Center; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the World Festival of Sacred Music.

Khadem’s voice has also been ubiquitous in film, television and stage. She has recorded with Hans Zimmer (on the feature soundtrack to the film Peace Maker), with Jeff Rona (on the score of TV series Traffic and Profiler), with Marco Beltrami (on the feature soundtrack to Dracula 2000), Chris Beck (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Richard Gibbs (Battlestar Galactica), and Jamshied Sharifi (Persona Non Grata).  She sang for the score of a theatrical production, Majles-e Shabih, composed by Iranian composer and ethnomusicologist Mohammed Reza Darvishi, and for The Libation Bearers, a play directed by Lee Breurer at the Patras Festival in Greece.

Today, Mamak teaches classical Persian music in Los Angeles as well as conducting workshops for non-musicians that incorporate singing, meditation, and movement. Many of her students now use her vocal techniques in their practices and performances. She has also taught at the popular Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp in Mendocino, California; the Labyrinth School of Music in Hudetsi, Greece; the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance; the University of Limerick, and the University of Toronto in Canada.

Her new album REMEMBRANCE, scheduled for 25 February 2022, is her fourth release and the first in her new signing with Six Degrees Records. It is a work like no other, a powerfully deep and loving tribute to her late father. Written in the isolation of her Santa Monica home during the COVID pandemic as her beloved father lived out his final days back in Iran, with Mamak unable to travel to be by his side, the album’s sense of beauty, separation, and loss is profound. Guest appearances by singer-pianist Chris Martin and the venerable Rumi scholar Coleman Barks enhance the first single, “Across the Oceans” (November 5), but the power of Mamak’s voice and the pure depth of her poignant emotional expression are what truly set this entire recording apart.

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