The ‘Divine’ Miss Dardashti


It flies in the face of Jewish-American history and the extraordinary diversity of the city’s cultural cauldron, but despite the best efforts of music presenters across the city, the overwhelming majority of concerts and recitals of Jewish music are classical or klezmer or Yiddish song. There are certainly many concerts that draw from other Jewish musical traditions, but they are outnumbered, to say the least.

That is one of the reasons why the World Music Institute’s Global Salon series has been a refreshing addition to the local musical calendar. The Feb. 25 event is an excellent example. Titled “Echoes of the Divine: Jewish Women’s Voices,” the program features Bukharian singer Muhabbat Shamayeva, an Uzbeki singer who has been heard here with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, and one of my favorite local musicians, Galeet Dardashti, in her first concert here with her group Divahn in a long while.

It was as the leader of Divahn that fans of Jewish music first became aware of the mercurially talented Dardashti, whose grandfather Yona Dardashti was an important Judeo-Persian singer and whose parents were also professional musicians.

“I never have left Divahn behind; I’ve continued performing with them over the past years,” Dardashti said in a telephone interview last week. “They’re my most long-standing project but because we haven’t recorded a new CD, people think I’ve dropped the group.”

Given that their one self-titled album was released in 2002, the confusion is perhaps understandable, and the band’s personnel has changed, so much so that Dardashti herself is the only original member still in the ensemble.

I never expected the band was going to continue,” she confessed last week. “I had absolutely no aspirations for the group; it was a fun side project in graduate school.”

The group’s initial success surprised its leader and she had to rethink her efforts to balance dual careers as a performing musician and an academic. She has, happily, managed to combine the two to the satisfaction of both audiences, students and her own sense of achievement.

As for the changes wrought in Divahn by the passage of time and exigencies of real life — Dardashti herself is now a mother of two —it is all to the good, she says.

“There’s some repertoire that’s fallen by the wayside because we have all different musicians,” she says, “But that has allowed me to explore the Persian material more and to do more with traditional Middle Eastern repertoire.”

From the start, the band had a “world-music” vibe, and that has remained the case. For example, one of the new members is Latin percussionist Elizabeth Puop-Walker, who gets a chance to shine on a flamenco piece that turns out to be a Spanish version of “Khad Gadya.”

Dardashti continues to pursue her other projects as well, performing her multimedia extravaganza “The Naming,” about women of the Bible, and “Monajat,” her reimagining of the Selikhot service in Judeo-Persian terms, as a tribute to her grandfather.

In fact, she has been performing both those pieces in quick succession in the past few weeks, and was anticipating a Washington, D.C., gig with Divahn shortly after our interview.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever performed all my shows in such close proximity to one another,” she confessed. “It’s been exciting and nerve-wracking.”

Being on a bill with Shamayeva is also a thrill for Dardashti.

“I know she’s amazing,” Dardashti says. “I have a colleague who is an expert on Bukharian Jewish music, and he raves about her all the time.”

In Uzbekistan, the singer is a respected figure who performed as part of the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the nation’s independence. She is probably best known here as the lead singer for the Ilyas Malayev Ensemble, named for the late Bukharian poet who was her husband.

“Echoes of the Divine: Jewish Women’s Voices,” Muhabbat Shamayeva, Galeet Dardashti and Divahn will be presented by the World Music Institute on Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Thalia Theater at Symphony Space (95th St. and Broadway). For information, call (212) 864-5400 or go to