Tallahassee’s Ramin Yazdanpanah is a self-proclaimed musical sponge. The homelands of his parents — his father is from Iran and his mother from Cuba — are filled with rhythms and rhymes that left an imprint in Yazdanpahah’s soul.
Yazdanpanah and the award-winning Maharajah Flamenco Trio will open for the Gipsy Kings on the Adderley Amphitheater stage at Cascades Park as part of Opening Nights on Oct. 20.
The 1980s brought refuge for his family, who moved to Miami to flee the religious and political persecution that permeated and continues to destroy Iran’s rich culture. Yet, in spite of this displacement, Yazdanpanah found familiarity in the music of his new city.
“So I was there as a kid in these neighborhoods (Little Havana), where music blasted out of everywhere. Every bodega had loud salsa, trumpets blasting, and rhythms,” Yazdanpanah said. “It was the ’80s in Miami! There was so much going on, and I just soaked it in.”
Eventually, his family moved to Tallahassee, where Yazdanpanah discovered the power of creating music. Yazdanpanah is a shining example of the benefits of developing thriving school arts programs. He credits Gilchrist Elementary School’s percussion ensemble and Cobb Middle School’s incredible music program for his lifelong appreciation of music.
During these early years, Yazdanpanah was on stage playing drums and trumpet. Music was his retreat, his safe space to hide from the madness of middle school. “First thing in the morning, I’d go in and (then I’d go right back) to the band room right after school. That was my sanctuary,” Yazdanpanah said.
Throughout his life, Yazdanpanah has always felt a strong connection to music and education. He ultimately fused them together through his educational program Full Circle: Language, Learning & Teaching. After completing his undergraduate degree from Florida State University in International Affairs, Yazdanpanah used his educational skills to teach English abroad while simultaneously becoming a student worldwide.
Spain became his first stop, and from the first moment he heard the sounds of Flamenco, the seeds were planted. “The cool thing about flamenco nuevo is it’s very open to different instruments experimenting… it’s really a world music genre,” says Yazdanpanah. Ever the percussionist, he found his path to flamenco through a Peruvian percussion instrument, el cajón or the box. As Yazdanpanah emphasizes, “It’s not just a box!”
The history of the instrument is rooted in Peruvian culture. During the African Diaspora, many music and artistic practices were appropriated by colonizers and eventually infused with modern-day culture. Like its cousin the congas, which were created out of barrels, the cajón was fashioned from shopping crates used first on Lima trade ships before being repurposed into percussive instruments by the hands of creative musicians.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the cajón found a home in flamenco dance, when Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia was seduced by the sounds of the slapping palms on the beating box, enhancing the rhythms created by pounding dancer feet.
Yazdanpanah, too, found a home in flamenco. It is a participatory style of music traditionally played in a circle, at a town square or a party. A sense of community and congruence is created by the music, the palmas (rhythmic clapping) dancers and singers, and the crowd shouting jaleos! (exclamations) during the show.
“Something that really draws me to flamenco is the combination of cultures like Middle Eastern, Andalucia, Morish, and Spanish Gitanos,” explains Yazdanpanah, “So it was Arabs, Jews, Gypsies, and Christians mixing in this space where flamenco comes out of. It’s familiar to me. I can identify with it.”
With a Master’s degree in Multilingual Multicultural Education and a Doctorate of Philosophy with a focus on International Comparative Education, Yazdanpanah melded the worlds of education and musical practice together in his work. He viewed himself as a cultural ambassador and served as an English Language Fellow with the United States Department of State, conducting workshops worldwide.
“If you want people to be vulnerable, you have to model that,” reveals Yazdanpanah. “So I brought instruments with me. I would integrate them into workshops focused on language and culture exchange.”
Yazdanpanah uses his connection to breathwork, which he attributes to the Australian didgeridoo he learned to play in undergraduate college, to help people become mindful and gain groundedness. He urges us to reflect upon how inner cultural contemplation leads to intercultural communication.
Yazdanpanah carries this philosophy into his teaching and his music.
Within his organization, Full Circle: Language, Learning & Teaching, Yazdanpanah practices what he calls “edutainment,” or a combination of performance and education, with the purpose of engaging the audience. Full Circle’s mission is to develop and share programs designed to tap into the transformative power that an exchange of experiences, ideas, and peer support has on professional and personal growth.
Learn more about The Gipsy Kings feat. the Maharajah Flamenco Trio.
Read the entire article on the Tallahassee Democrat.