Halifax musician Behrooz Mihankhah breaks down borders with debut album

·4 min read

Music has always been a part of Behrooz Mihankhah’s life. Family gatherings in his country of birth, Iran, always ended with everyone breaking into song.

“I always sang since I was a very, very small kid … I don't even remember but my parents tell me and show me pictures,” he said from his Halifax home.

His interest in music grew over the years — from taking piano lessons to learning guitar from a friend and performing across Pune district in southwest India. He is now a composer, pianist, and music teacher based in Halifax.

On Saturday, Oct. 16, Mihankhah is releasing his debut album, Lydium, inspired by his migrations and the styles of music he studied.

Instruments fill the small room where he creates music: an acoustic guitar, drums, three keyboards, a setar, and a tombak. The last two are traditional Persian instruments — the tombak is a goblet-shaped wooden drum and the setar is pear-shaped with three strings and a long arm.

They all come to play in Mihankha’s Lydium, weaving the contemporary with the traditional. He describes the music as impressionist and modern jazz compositions presented in an Iranian instrumental context. The album has four original pieces and four re-imagined pieces by some of his favorite composers: Joe Henderson, Eric Satie, and John Coltrane.

It was at a music school in Pune, where he moved with his family at the age of 15, that Mihankha’s passion for creating music was ignited.

“They fed us and taught us music, basically. And that's all there was to do, like all day, just practicing,”

“It completely changed my whole perception about music and what I thought music was … I used to just play guitar, sing songs, and write songs. But then I saw this whole other level of musicianship there and I was like, oh my god, I want to … be like that, or I want to be able to express in those ways.”

Mihankhah also learned concepts of Carnatic music and Konnakol, a spoken rhythmic language from south India that later influenced many of his compositions.

After just one semester, his family moved once again — this time to Halifax, N.S.

Much like his music, Mihankhah’s identity doesn’t fit in a neat little box. Spending his life between Iran, India, and Canada, the answer to “where are you from?” can be complicated.

“I see Halifax more as my home but … I was born in Iran and spent so much time in India … It's a big melting pot.”

The more Mihankhah travelled and learned, the more he grew interested in fusing musical traditions of the past with modern compositions.

It all started with the folk songs he listened to as a child — the melodies you know but can’t remember the time you first heard. While he can’t put his finger on what exactly attracted him to the music, he said it gave him the urge to experiment and reproduce the sound.

He was working towards a bachelor’s in music at St. Francis Xavier University when he began honing his skills to create the type of music he likes. As COVID-19 spread across Nova Scotia in early 2020, Mihankhah found himself with more time to explore his interest.

“My attention … switched from doing live shows to just trying to create.”

Eventually, he approached other musicians with his ideas. Lydium was born after a year and a half of collaboration and improvisation, but not without challenges.

“The pandemic has made it very unique … Anything could just be canceled in a moment's notice, right?

"You do all this planning and everything, but then someone could be at an exposure sight or something and the whole thing … has to be called off.”

Besides Mihankhah, who played the piano and composed, nine musicians helped bring the album to life: Mohammad Sahraei on the Taar, Andrew Jackson on the trombone, Charles Urich and Brendan Melchin played the drums, Pat Healy on the guitar, John Janigan-Mills on the bass, Pouya Shekarriz on the Tombak, and Andrew Mackelvie on the saxophone.

“It's been fantastic,” he said of working with the group. “Music … for me, it's a very community-driven thing. I just don't see it being something that I would just do on my own. It has to be something that I would create with other folks.”

Mihankhah’s album release concert will be held Oct. 16 at The Music Room on Lady Hammond Road. Tickets can be purchased at https://behroozmihankhah.com/

You can also follow his accounts on Instagram and Facebook for updates.

Nebal Snan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle Herald

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