Shahnameh is an evening-length production built with Persian-American composer Sahba Aminikia, the musicians of The Living Earth Show, and narrator Nils Frykdahl. The project takes as its guiding principle the belief that classical music can be used as a foundation for storytelling, creating worlds with text and music that can create bridges between individuals, cultures, and identities. The production is centered around the musical setting of four stories from Shahnameh, an epic poem written by Persian poet Ferdowsi between c.977 and 1010, combining actual historical events, mythology, and ethics taken from Zoroastrian scripture. Synthesizing the classical song cycle tradition and storytelling, Sahba set the text (delivered by vocalist Frykdahl) to music performed live by The Living Earth Show.
Born in post-revolutionary wartime in Iran, San Francisco-based Sahba Aminikia has been christened by the San Francisco Chronicle as “an artist singularly equipped to provide a soundtrack to these unsettling times.” Highly influenced by the poetry of Hafiz, Rumi, and Saadi, as well as traditional, classical and jazz music and the albums of Pink Floyd, Beatles, and Queen, Aminikia cites music to be an immersive, transcendent, yet visceral human experience. He is curious about the duality in existence, and musically explores subjects that confront the pursuit of enlightenment amid darkness.
Nils Frykdahl has perused music and its applications in continuous bursts of public activity since his boyhood in the 1970’s, when he studied the flute and music theory with childlike intensity. The 80’s saw the transferring of this devotion to the guitar, which by the 90’s had been superseded by the voice. All of these loves (and numerous affairs with percussion and winds) were united in the realization of the Great Work: composition, in which he received a Bachelor’s Degree from UC Berkeley in 1989, studying with venerable Andrew Imbrie. He then turned to the world, falling headlong into a love that has at times threatened to eclipse all else: the show, an empty moment shared with the almost possible. All manner of possibles announced themselves in the years to come under the flowering auspices of a show called Idiot Flesh, a difficult and visceral rock band which embraced intrusions of theater, puppetry, and dance, collaborations which have led to inkBoat. The 90’s saw many tours of a portable Idiot Flesh around the US and work with a related ethnomusicological group: Charming Hostess. Nils performed in Europe in ’97 and ’99, the latter as a musician and “dancer” in the Ex-it! 99 International Butoh Festival. He has also worked with the Berkeley Repertory Theater and the Underworld Opera. His compositions have been performed at UC Berkeley and Stony Brook. The close of the millennium saw the founding of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and the music/theater duo – The Faun Fables.