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"Rhythmic-wise and harmonic-wise," Amir says, "Latin music is similar to Persian music. Eastern music is very melodic, and so putting one on top of the other is a perfect fit. There are lots of historic links between the Spanish, Latin, African and Arabic cultures, but it all comes down to that 6/8 rhythm. Spain has always been a bridge between Africa and Europe, and Spanish music also bridges with Arabic culture. We use a lot of Arabic scales in Iran, but the melodies are similar to Spanish and South American music."
"Playing Persian music," Farshid adds, "there's really no way to play that music itself in a new way. Latin music is more open, maybe more accessible and entertaining."
"There is no music without an audience," Farshid adds. Charlie laughs: "We almost got kicked out of the Ritz-Carlton once." Acoustic Internote plays in the hotel's lounge four or five times a month. "People were dancing and gave us a standing ovation. Things got a little crazy. Trent Reznor was there, and he was bopping to us all night long."
At the Whitaker Jazz Festival, out on the meadows of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Acoustic Internote more than entertains an astonishingly large and culturally mixed audience. Older African-American couples, Colombian and Venezuelan students, kids from St. Louis University and kindergartens, Indian families, Arab-Americans, white folks of all ages -- all exchange the lazy bop-bop of summer festival listening for the heated, speeding circulation of this fascinating Middle Eastern/Latin hybrid. On the congas and bongos, Ali Soltanshahi takes a solo, fingers and wrists wrapped in tape, still aching from the ecstatic violence of last week's hand-drumming. Being the youngest member, Ali could just lay back. The music won't let him. "I started on the kitchen table," he says. "Our family is a very music-loving family; Farshid would play guitar at the kitchen table, and I'd beat my hands in time. I then moved on to the dumbek and other Persian percussion, then picked up the congas and bongos. A lot of percussionists play a very standard pattern, but I like to work things out my own way. I play the bongos like the dumbek sometimes, and they are my main love now. I use the congas to add color."
Drummer John Hale has played with country, rock, blues and jazz bands, becoming the principle drummer for blues singer Anne Grant. He has one of the lightest and fullest touches of any drummer in town, as well as a fascinating approach to Latin percussion, incorporating a flamencolike rappity-rap rapping, a staccato but open rhythm, whether he is attacking the toms, snares or timbales. The band's set list -- which moves from bossa nova to Joe Sample to traditional Iranian folk songs to a tune from Black Orpheus to Carlos Santana -- demands nothing if not range.
"This is a very physical band," Amir says. "It's like working out. I didn't realize it until people started sitting in with us, and then after a few songs they'll be out of breath. But speed is only one aspect of the music."