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© Ina Aydogan

Golnar Shahyar

In 2008, the Iranian/Canadian vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Golnar Shahyar settled in Vienna and began studying voice and guitar at the University of Music and Performing Arts. Her timing was auspicious: a generational change was gathering strength on the music scene. The stubbornly traditionalist mindset that had held sway for decades was beginning to crumble, gradually giving way to an increased interest in experimentation and transcending old boundaries, both aesthetic and cultural. Many musicians were increasingly questioning the contrived distinctions between “serious” and “popular” music, as well as the Eurocentricity received from previous generations.

Golnar’s musical aspirations found fertile soil in these circles, as did her passion for social justice in all its forms. She quickly made a name for herself in Vienna, and today she is widely known as one of the most accomplished vocal artists in European contemporary and improvised music, as well as a composer and producer of her own music and a collaborator in dance, theater projects and opera productions. 

Her work – with groups like Choub, Gabbeh, and the Golnar & Mahan Trio, and as a solo artist under the name GolNar – is an extraordinary prism of languages and styles, drawing equally from the traditions of Western Asia and North Africa and from the contemporary music of Europe and the Americas. There is no meaningful division between her music and the social themes it addresses; she came of age in a culture where women, for decades, have fought for a public voice. Add to that the status of an outsider in Western Europe, representing a culture often viewed with mistrust and misunderstanding, and music-making in itself becomes a political act.

Golnar Shahyar is part of Culture X Change #Iran