Q&A/The Festival Sessions/Fringe World Festival/Music

Martin Sims Award winner returns

8 January 2021

The 2020 Fringe World season was a big one for Kohesia Ensemble. The local group, which performs Persian music, took out the top prize at the Fringe World Awards – the Martin Sims Award, recognising the best new West Australian work in the festival, and the one most likely to succeed internationally.

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It’s no surprise, then, that Kohesia Ensemble is bringing back its award-winning show, Shahnameh: Songs of the Persian Book of Kings. Kohesia’s leader Kate Pass gave Seesaw the lowdown on the show that took out the top Fringe prize last year.

Seesaw: Welcome back to the Fringe Sessions Kate. For those readers who are new to Seesaw, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
Kate Pass:
I’m a double bass player and composer, and I lead “Kohesia Ensemble” – a band that combines Persian flute (ney), percussion (daf) lute (saz) and oud with jazz instruments. I’ve been performing and studying Persian music since 2012, and formed Kohesia Ensemble as a platform for my original compositions. I released an album with Kohesia Ensemble in 2018, which was nominated for 2018 WAM Best Album, Best Jazz Act and Best World Act. Kohesia Ensemble has performed at an array of festivals including National Folk Festival (ACT), Illawarra Folk Festival (NSW), Fairbridge Festival, and Perth International Jazz Festival.

Kate Pass

S: Tell us about the show you are presenting at Fringe World 2021, Shahnameh: Songs of the Persian Book of Kings
The show is a suite of songs inspired by the 10th century Persian epic poem, Shahnameh. It features an eight-piece band, and narration by Saeed Danesh, who leads the audience through stories of several main characters from Shahnameh. Combining Persian and jazz instruments, the show explores tales of creation, kings, dragons and demons through music.

S: What inspired you to present Shahnameh: Songs of the Persian Book of Kings?
Shahnameh is an incredible epic poem. It’s a really significant text in Persian culture, and its stories are universal and timeless, but unfortunately, it is relatively unknown in Australia. The stories provide a rich inspiration for musical content, with heroic adventures, magical creatures, heart wrenching love stories and battles between good and evil.

I’ve always wanted to try setting music to words, and the expressive nature of Kohesia Ensemble makes storytelling through music an exciting experience.

S: What makes Shahnameh: Songs of the Persian Book of Kings different to all the others on offer at Fringe?
We were so excited that “Shahnameh: Songs of the Persian Book of Kings” won the major award at Fringe World last year – 2020 Martin Sims Award for the “Best new WA work that is destined to succeed on the world stage.” The combination of jazz and Persian instruments is rare, and the stories of Shahnameh are not often presented in Australia, or in English. The show features a unique array of Persian and jazz instruments including ney, oud and saz, and features some of Perth’s best improvisers, including Daniel Susnjar, Esfandiar Shahmir, Reza Mirzaei, Chris Foster, Mike Zolker, Marc Osborne and Jess Carlton.

S: Aside from your own show, what are you looking forward to at Fringe World 2021?
Kohesia Ensemble are also performing in “An Evening on Persian Jazz” at the Ellington on January 23 and 24, and presenting a new Quartet show on February 2-4 “Kohesia Quartet: Nightingale Songs”. I’m also looking forward to performing with Perth Cabaret Collective (Brassy Broads and Spectacular, Spectacular) and jazz harpist Michelle Smith at Studio Underground.

S: No interview is complete without reflecting on 2020. How has living through a global pandemic shaped or changed your practice/the way you work/the type of work you make?
It’s certainly been a tough year, but of course we’ve been extremely fortunate here in WA. It’s been difficult focusing on artistic practice when the rest of the world is suffering. There is a fair amount of guilt around being lucky enough to perform, when so many other people are in lockdown, financial and emotional distress, or dealing with illness. Spending more time at home and performing a little less has allowed me to focus on creating new work. It’s also been good connecting with musicians around the world for online concerts, classes and lessons, without needing to travel.

S: How do you think the pandemic will impact the arts long-term?
I’m trying to focus on the positive in hope – I think there’s been more of a trend of people in Perth supporting local businesses and local artists – I hope this continues! I also think there’s been a renewed sense that the arts actually are essential in helping us cope with difficult times. It gives us an outlet, an escape and a way to make sense of this crazy world and our place in it.

Shahnameh: Songs of the Persian Book of Kings plays Lotterywest De Parel Spiegeltent at The Woodside Pleasure Garden, 15-22 January as part of Fringe World 2020.

Pictured top is Kohesia Ensemble.

“The Fringe Sessions” is an annual series of Q&A interviews with artists who will be appearing at Fringe World. Stay tuned for more!

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked for over a decade as an arts writer and critic. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. Nina was co-editor of Dance Australia magazine from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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