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Being Their Voice : Abtin Zahed on Empowerment Through Musical Advocacy

Proud Persian. Musician, composer, producer, motion designer

When was the last time you had a bad day? Every person in the world has a story to tell. Each lived experience is worth discovering amongst strangers. We all share some good and some bad in our own lives, experiencing different truths, while existing in real time in our lives together. The music we consume is entertainment for the most part, but the songs that define our stories are the ones we remember most. Some of the best art can be found through creative expressions rooted in pain. Profound impact can be made through multifaceted themes and distinct messaging. It's up to the artist to powerfully and effectively share what that is. When we think of resilience, a key aspect is being able to face adversity with optimism. It would be foolish to face it blindly, and with this comes a special kind of strength that garners deserved respect. Growing up we learn new ways to survive and develop much needed coping skills. Being resourceful and honest with how we can make positive moves to better our lives is what changes victims into survivors. The capacity to manage difficult situations varies amongst each individual. The fortitude it takes to continue on with a clear purpose and positive intention having faces hardship is what sets people apart. Let's amplify these voices! Introducing Abtin Zahed. A self-proclaimed, proud Persian composer of cinematic orchestral theme music. He's a talented and humble self-taught musician and producer with skills in crafting his own audio and visuals in motion design. We've had the great honor to connect with him and learn more about his story which is encapsulated by strong messages of hope, peace, and unity through beautiful works of art and music.

Photograph of Abtin Zahed

Q: What does it mean to be a "Proud Persian"?

A: It's me being authentically me - unapologetically. I feel it's important to talk about race to fight prejudice and racism. We can build a more equitable society if we are all more honest about ourselves and how we show up for our communities. In order to educate people who do not know about our culture or any of our history, we should be proud and open to share who we are and represent our people so we can build better human connections. I am a proud Persian, and my motherland is Persia (the ancient name of territory) which is now the modern-day nation of Iran. Our people are rooted in divine light with abundant love for all. Most times the world media paints us, those of us in marginalized communities, in ways that are unfair and unjust. The only way to challenge the negative narratives is to extend our hand out and teach our fellow neighbors about how alike we are. Much of the news is steered for propaganda to align various government agendas and help power plays being made. War is often framed by the "good guy" vs. the "bad guy" and is often a huge misrepresentation of groups of people as a whole. The truth is only a few hungry people in positions of power are responsible. We are sometimes forced to have our heads down and obey out of fear for our lives and security. That does not mean we wholeheartedly agree with our leaders. Many of us absolutely do not condone acts of war or any violence. Sharing who I am on the outside is important for understanding myself and building my own identity. Doing so helps us each identify who we are, how we came to be, and how our shared experiences can shape a community for the better. Q: What message does your music deliver? A: I aim every day to make honest music. Honest music shares the truth. My truth. My story. Continuing to show up as a Persian artist has had its defining challenges, but I will not give up. My intentions are clear and my purpose is simple. My people, Persian people, are an oppressed group of people who only wish for peace and intrinsic human freedoms for all. Many world leaders are lying to the public. What I create, share with others, and put out into the world is my personal vendetta and my way of doing something about sharing the truth. It's the legacy I am choosing to create with my time here. I feel a great responsibility to do so. I want to share all of the magnificent history from the land I come from and express the epic stories through music. More importantly, to resonate the triumphs we have endured and those we continue to fight for today. My compositions carry hints of sounds from the ancient world and plays heavily upon Persian Mythology and themes. Each track aims to evoke strong emotions for people all across the world. Every song is meant to take listeners on a journey through time and places beyond their own understanding. I am carrying the tunes of my ancestors and crafting them in ways that can be produced in today's musical landscape. Due to a lack of education, many kids from my generation grew up a bit brainwashed. The society chose to stay silent in fear of not losing family members. Our saving grace was the internet. It really opened our eyes to the reality of the world beyond Iran. I don't believe in the doctrines passed down to us from those who came into power. My family loved music and encouraged it. That kept me grounded. I don't just identify as Iranian; I am Persian as well.

Metaphorically, I am speaking for people of the past and for those who cannot speak up in the present today. Making music is how I can best spread their voices around the world.

Q: How did music come into your life? A: My earliest musical memories include seeing Greek composer Yanni via a VHS tape my father acquired and played for us on the family television set. Yanni predominantly created only instrumental music. It was my introduction into orchestral music from a young age. I was enamored by his stage performance, mesmerizing style, and collective of unforgettable sounds. There were no words or lyrics sung, but I could hear the stories within his music. I was greatly inspired. I appreciated music's storytelling at the a young age. That stuck with me for the rest of my life and I never lost the passion for orchestra music. I was also inspired by the American rock guitarist Joe Satriani and Singaporean violinist Vanessa-Mae. The wave of new music genres I discovered grew with the increased adaptation of online access as I aged. My interest in heavy metal is rooted with legendary American bands like Metallica and Slipknot. There was so much rebellious energy that I gravitated to that type of music. There was a message that was being delivered in all of the shouting. The veracity and truth in the need to scream and yell resonated with me deeply. I was captivated by the sounds of the electric guitars and basses. It was loud and in your face! Everything about it was my soul expressing itself through the healing art of music. As a child I was not able to pursue my musical aspirations at that time due to many varying circumstances. However, my love for music persisted and I eventually found my way to the electric guitar thanks to a family member. I was really good at learning on my own and gradually picked it up with some training. Eventually, I found my place and music footing in my twenties. I was really a fan of heavy metal and decided to start a band playing that style of music. With time, I founded a metal band called THY DISPRAISE, where we created and released tracks and albums. The name derives from words that overall translate to "your humble beings." We collaborated together in underground studios as a music band and members in a group. The music scene in Iran existed with many of us being influenced by sounds and music we discovered over the internet. It was a refuge for us to find other like-minded friends. Being in the band, I learned how to share a collective mindset. We had different opinions and disagreed at times, but unanimously agreed that we could change things with music. It was hard but fun to rebel and protest for something better together. There were many transitions through our time together. It was not allowed or encouraged to pursue these endeavors as a youth growing up under the Iranian regime. However, it was our form of expression and the catalyst for our rebellious spirit to connect with others and build community. Many of us in the music scene had to hide what we were doing on the surface. A lot of us didn't do music for fame or fortune. There was not much to be had. Our lyrics were messages about our lives and about humanity. The unknown. Always feeling lost about the future and our struggles. We had a talented English tutor who helped us translate our words from Persian into English. It was a long process. There were a lot of individual sacrifices we each made but we learned to be flexible. Some of us are better at that than others. I really agree with the saying, "check your ego at the door," anytime people need to work together. It is the biggest challenge in being in a band or group. I am grateful for that time. Q: How did your personal music journey in Web3 start? A: A couple of years ago I left Iran for Turkey. I fully support women's freedoms and could not continue to share a life with a woman I loved and value in a country I did not feel she could be safe in. We made the decision to leave the only home we knew together. That was officially when we disbanded the heavy metal group and band. It was time for me to go on my own journey. I wanted to release solo music and compose cinematic music with art. My wife, Sheyda, is the most encouraging and supportive life partner. She's not only a talented singer, whom I met from the band, but also a creative painter and artist in her own right. We collaborated together on her first music NFT launched on Foundation. I would compose music for Web2 and Web3 and remixed tracks when appropriate. It opened my eyes to the opportunities and freedom to connect around the world with others in Web3. It was a lonely start, but I slowly joined music spaces and some competitions and started establishing genuine connections and friendships. I want to give a huge shout out to my Web3 friend and best friend Victor. He gave me so much guidance on how to launch a collection and taught me a lot about many different platforms. I have had the great pleasure of making new friends and collaborating with others. I was inspired by many artists through the communities I joined. I explored AI for making art for my music NFTs. Using my motion design background, I was able to customize and personalize my art with each track. The unwavering support and love from my family and friends was and is the foundation for why I was so determined and steady in my musical endeavors. I knew this was my path to internal peace and spiritual freedom, and it was a form of therapy that saved me and my friends during our darkest days growing up. Music is something I want to always be doing.

Q: What is something new you can say that you appreciate about music today? A: I learned that as a music artist, there are so many more opportunities today and different mediums to share our sound and work thanks to the internet. I find myself continuously learning and that is what excites me about the future. Another thing I learned personally was how different musicians differ in preparation and performance. We can all share the same stage but have entirely different experiences based on the instrument we play with. The violin is a new family member that I welcomed into my life this last year. It's an instrument that I've really connected with all my life but never had the chance to explore further. Now I am in a position to do so and it's been so wonderful to learn something out of my usual comfort zone. There's so much need for mental and physical fortitude that it's encouraged me to take better care of my overall health to perform it well. You cannot sit idle and simply relax while playing it. It requires your full body to move. I have a newfound appreciation for violinists and appreciate the fun challenge.

The hardest part of every instrument is the practice. To do what you can't do and expand your abilities on it. It's hard - but necessary.

Q: What do you enjoy outside of making music? A: I was a gamer since my childhood, but I am an old gamer of WoW (World of Warcraft) and still enjoy playing it. I love online PVP games, especially open world games. On the other hand, I love these games too: For Honor, Payday 2, Killing Floor 2, Guild Wars 2, Mortal Kombat. I love sports too! I used to play football as a child but never had a chance to be a professional. I am fascinated by Japanese culture, and I know a little bit of Kenjutso (Japanese swordsmanship). I also had the chance to practice with katana swords for 3 years. Q: What inspires your music? A: Persian Mythology. The ancient Persian religion was an oral tradition. It had no written scripture. A lot of what is known in the present day comes from revelations from a prophet. A veneration (of great respect and reverence) of many gods and one's ancestors corresponds to what is known today as ancient Persian mythology. My music is healing because it evokes memories and something familiar for my people. They may not even realize it, but muscle memory is passed down from generation to generation. Researchers have found that different musical themes have a way of reducing internal pain and discomfort. Music has always been a healing tool humans have had throughout our history. Q: What is one of your favorite tracks from your "Echoes of the Sacred Grounds" album? A: The Persian Immortals is the fifth track on the album and my favorite. It's the story in sound about the once elite ancient Persian military unit, known for their exceptional skill and unwavering loyalty. Handpicked from across the empire, they numbered precisely ten thousand and maintained their strength by immediately replacing fallen members. Renowned for their distinctive attire and formidable prowess, The Immortals played a significant role in various military campaigns, most notably during the reign of King Darius I and the Persian Wars against Greece. Their reputation as an unstoppable force struck fear into the hearts of their enemies, and their presence on the battlefield was often a decisive factor in Persian victories. The NFT along with the other album tracks unlocks the token gated page for VIP collectors. Q: What are you looking forward to? A: Making more music and sharing it with the world. Making positive change through music. As I continued to grow and evolve as a musician, I found myself drawn back to my original love for orchestral music. My passion for storytelling through music runs deep, especially in the divisive times of modern-day war we are currently living. I want to continue sharing our history through music that comes from ancient times. Reminding the people of Persia as well as educating the rest of the world. My tracks relate to Iran and Persia. They are both connected through the people and shared experiences, although very different historically. In 1979, Iran was very successful in technology with a strong army and ample natural resources. The economy was fantastic, and our money was strong. America did not issue VISAs into Iran and neighbors were ignored. It weakened Iran. Who benefited? Weapon manufacturers. Religion became stronger in this region and the people, especially women, became more oppressed. Power and greed consumed our world and our nation's leaders. War ensued and we became enemy number one to many around the world. We were a valuable want for roads to riches for many and simultaneously a humanitarian and military threat. The Persian people are friendly people, but this war turned some of us into monsters and people to fear. It's very complex. We have a history of brutal government fighting, but also a story of unwavering strength and bravery to keep surviving. We have a long-standing story of wanting ultimate peace. We are broken people, but we spiritually continue to protest against oppression. We believe in telling our truth, fighting for justice and granting freedom for all. We are loving people. We do not want war. Q: What's next for you Abtin? A: I have settled and accepted new changes in my life for the better. As I began to compose cinematic orchestral theme music, I also began to explore more mediums of how I can best share this audio and visual music experience. It's a part of me that is very personal that I can finally dive deeper into. I look forward to making more friends and connections in Web3. I first have to find my community and start growing and building on that before I can fully share everything. I know it will take time, but I am ok with that. I have been a musician for over 15 years, so I understand these things take time to establish oneself. In Web2 people have to find you. But in Web3 we can connect more directly to our audience. We can find our own audience and decide how we want to exist as an artist here. There's so much to learn and so much room to grow for everyone. I see this as an exciting new chapter worth exploring - working together and continuing to collaborate with other artists too! I can't wait to tell more of our stories.

I am my own voice. But I will also be their voice.
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