“I think of myself as a pianist who is driven to help people who are searching to heal through music.” – Arash Behzadi
The Yak goes one on one with…
…Arash Behzadi, a Canadian/Iranian, Neo-Classical pianist and composer who is becoming a Bali regular, graces us with his music in numerous concerts and collaborations with other Bali artists.
Canadian Iranian? Could you tell us more about this cosmopolitan yet exotic mix?
Well, I’m seen as exotic perhaps in Bali but not in Canada, especially Toronto where I grew up, as Toronto is one of – some say the most – cosmopolitan city in the world. People in Toronto come from all over the globe.
Would you believe that students in our schools speak more than 120 languages! In the Canadian province of Ontario where I grew up, well over three and a half million people have a mother tongue other than the official languages of English and French.
So no, there is nothing exotic about hailing from another country in Canada – but especially Toronto. Maybe it’s Toronto that is exotic!
How did the piano introduce itself to you?
It was pretty much an organic process. I grew up with music, you know, just casually playing the piano and taking some lessons. But it’s only in the last 15 years or so that I really became confident as a composer. I had always dreamed of creating my own compositions. For me there is more value in playing and in creating my own compositions than playing the work of another composer.
Was it love at first sight, or was it a chore before ‘love blossomed’?
For me piano is another language, stronger than any other language; it’s a language of peace, love, drama and even frustration.
Was there a significant moment in your life where composing and piano became a career?
Well now I’m more confident – I have a mission; I have something to share with the world. I feel that my music enriches both the soul and the heart. And I like to think that it has healing qualities. I have a business that sustains me materially but it’s music that sustains my soul and fulfills my creative drive.
Tell us about your “Play me I am yours” street piano experience?
“Play me I’m yours” was an installation of sorts throughout Europe, the U.S. and Canada where pianos were set up in public places for people to play. It was a fun thing – a way of starting conversations with people, passers-by. The piano has always been an instrument of connection for me.
Your collaborations are amazing – particularly the The Joy of Storm with dance choreography by Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam. How do they come about?
I have to admit that I think many amazingly creative artists find me, more than I find them! We share our art and we create lasting friendships. And it pushes me creatively – pushes me to grow in unexpected directions.
You have collaborated with a wide variety of artists in both your compositions and your music videos. How does the decision of which medium to use come about?
I find that it’s quite an organic process. I believe my music attracts these opportunities. I have collaborated with dancers, painters, spoken-word poets, cinematographers, singers and other musicians. Somehow we find each other.
You have been coming to Bali for many years. What was the initial reason and experience?
It was a stopover that changed my life! It started as a coincidence in a way. I was flying from Hong Kong to Dubai and decided to check out Bali as I was curious. It was only a three-day weekend trip. I’m a yoga aficionado so I went to Ubud, and in a yoga class I ran into a friend from Toronto – which speaks to how much of an international community Bali is, and which I was so happy to discover. My friend connected me to the musical community and suggested I go to the Cultural Centre, which had a piano. I met the manager and she invited me – on the spot! – to come back and play. They organized two concerts for me in 3 months time. The experience was so rewarding that I began to ask myself if Bali was a place where I could grow artistically, and as a person. In fact I now live in Bali part time.
What do you think this Island of the Gods brings to your music?
One of the many gifts Bali offers is the feeling of universality of human beings. People do not look at the color of a person’s skin nor do they judge you by what you are wearing. They are not fixated on appearances or material things. There is more focus on the simple aspects of life. The way we meet people as well – there’s a certain synchronicity in how easily we find things we have in common.
Bali’s natural beauty is astonishing as well as incredibly inspirational. It is such a creative island. I instantly tapped into its creative energy.
Bali was always a mysterious and magical place. It is also a mecca for yogis and for spiritual practices. I found that there was so much depth to the island’s energy. It’s this unique energy, Bali’s spirituality and local talent, that has attracted such an array of unique individuals with unique talents who call it home. People come for healing and also to create.
Bali is inspirational – it inspires personal awakenings. There is definitely a powerful creative energy. It changes one’s perspective. I find that people distance themselves from the western world here. There’s a feeling that people are losing their souls in the western world. Here in Bali things happen so effortlessly – you meet people so easily – as if it’s meant to be. And you start collaborating.
For instance, I met Cosmic, an incredibly talented film-maker from Australia. Together we collaborated on my very first video, Peace Within, and the spectacular The Last Sigh, where we obtained unprecedented access to the centuries-old sacred rituals performed within the royal family’s inner sanctum on the occasion of the cremation for Gusti Agung Niang Putu, (wife of the former king of Ubud), who passed away in 2017. In this video, the intimate camera invites us in, sharing intensely private moments of devotion.
We also captured the exuberant dazzling day-long cremation ceremony, the largest ever in Bali, which saw thousands of villagers packing the streets as far as the eye could see, filling every available balcony along the route.
These unforgettable scenes formed a powerful and magical backdrop for The Last Sigh, an intimate yet edgy composition. Scenes are bathed in a golden light reminiscent of an exotic Rembrandt come to life. These are unforgettable Bali moments!
Cosmic and I also worked together on a music video called Madly, which is about the push/pull – the ambivalence of love, the dynamic between people who crave love and intimacy yet at the same time are terrified of being either hurt or suffocated.
I also met Alla Dulh, a multi-faceted artist from Russia with whom I collaborated on a theatrical performance titled Antare which featured her paintings on wood projected onto a screen on the stage in the sacred Wu Wei Wisdom sanctuary during the performance.
Mario Gonzales is another film maker with whom I collaborated on music videos such as Breathe, featuring Chinese choreographer and dancer Faye Jie. We filmed Breathe in the wondrous cathedral like canopy of the awe inspiring Bali Botanical Gardens. Faye Jie gambols through the enchanted forest, expressing a gamut of emotions in an ethereal dance of lyrical exploration – like a lover, embracing the stoic unyielding trees.
I created this piece as a journey to be explored in a meditative state. My inspiration was breath – the act of breathing. We are interconnected to nature through breath for without breath there is no life. The more conscious we are of our breathing, the more the meditative benefits. That is what I was striving to achieve in this piece.
Faye Jie also performed on stage for some of my Bali concerts.
Dimitri Legrand, a talented French film maker is yet another artist with whom I collaborated on a music video called Blood Moon about tumultuous relationships. The blood moon is a real phenomenon, a lunar eclipse, but also a metaphor for a time of release and closure, a time of culmination, to let go of negative energy and beliefs and bad habits, a time of introspection and a time to avoid arguments for it’s a time of chaos in that release also brings grief.
These collaborations happen organically for me in Bali as the island lends itself to those kinds of serendipitous encounters.
I am a better person because of my time spent here. I have met so may gentle and kind people who give so much inspiration, affection, care and support.
What do you think your music brings to Bali?
I believe my music has a therapeutic nature. Many people who visit or who live in Bali are seeking healing, and I feel my music speaks to them. Each of my compositions has a story that creates the backdrop for the inclusion of other art forms, be it dance, poetry, film or vocals.
It has also enriched my relationship with the Balinese. One of my greatest honours was to gift my music video, The Last Sigh to Bali’s Royal Family and King of Ubud which deepened my relationship with the Royal Family. In fact we are already planning a Royal Gala Concert for the Royal Family at the end of this year.
You have played in a variety of places in Bali over the last few years, do you find the audiences very different in one venue or another?
I feel audiences here are global citizens. It’s such a blend of cultures. Bali has helped me open up and I am so grateful for the wealth of opportunities Bali has afforded me. The way people respond to my music is phenomenal.
I have to say that my experience of living and performing in Bali has really shaped my future. I’ve had so much support here.
You are currently playing in Bali, and I believe we will be fortunate enough to have more visits from you this year? Any concrete months or venues we should be looking at?
As the borders have opened after the pandemic, there will be of course more opportunities for me to share my live music with the Balinese people, as well as expats and visitors. We are already planning a few concerts and performances over the next few months and the details will be announced on my social media.
Lastly, if you could wave a wand and get three wishes. What would they be?
Like so many others I would wish for a kinder gentler world, free of strife, war, poverty and inequality.
Arash Behzadi it has been an absolute pleasure, thank you for your time and we’ll definitely be front and centre at your next concert!
The Yak’s choice of YouTube links:
The Last Sigh: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slct2C0dq6s&t=219s
(Balinese Royal Family Cremation Ceremony)
Peace Within: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6-bKMsHwV0&t=127s
(Bali Water Ceremonies and waterfalls)
Fearing Love: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=998cn1F-ELA&t=2s
(Three parallel stories of love and friendship during pandemic times)
(A meditative journey through Bali’s Botanical gardens and Kintamani lake featuring the choreographer, Faye Jie, directed by Mario Gonzalez)
Concert at PARQ Ubud: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mynUjvb1dJ4
(Showing live performance moments at the Parq Ubud concert, April 2021)
The Joy of Storm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZcATWbnXL0
(With Dancer Choreographer – Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam)
Photo credits: Ruslan Lysakov – Alex Grabchilev – Olga Vetrova