I press play and close my eyes. I’m instantly transported to a beautiful landscape of sound and texture. It feels like flying over rolling waves, through starry skies, and lush green hillsides painted with wildflowers—like the sensation of setting off on an epic journey that is both new and deeply familiar. A feeling I can only describe as my body filling with joyous energy and heartache, while yearning to be alive. All at the same time.

This is the effect of the music of Navá. A four-piece band created by Iranian-born musicians (and brothers) Shahab and Shayan Coohe, along with Irish musicians Niall Hughes and Paddy Kiernan. They met at an open mic session in Dublin, Ireland in 2015 and formed the band early the next year. Navá weaves their own unique sound, each carrying threads from traditional Persian and Irish music. 

Navá delicately blends these worlds of music in a subtle yet natural and cohesive manner. And while there are similarities between Persian and Irish music—like the lilting melodies and ornamentations that sound as if they were learned from the birds themselves—they are still very much, two different worlds. 

When I talked with Shahab Coohe, who plays santour, he touched on this musical mergence, which is quite new but manages to reach back to some deep and ancient shared roots, he told me:  “We are establishing a style that’s even very new for us. We really use all colors to paint together. I must note that there are more differences than similarities between Irish and Persian music. We find similarities within our own approach and interpretation. We are only experimenting. We have no prejudice in our music. I think all genres and ideas must be respected and be in the market. People must have options. Tradition is a great legacy, as long as it doesn’t stop us from exploring.”

Explaining how Navá composes their music, much of which is improvisational, Shahab noted, “The process of completing a composition happens quite organically and democratically. We often compose while we rehearse or jam together. I think the magic happens once we all take risks together and really connect.”

As you listen to Navá’s music, one instrument you won’t hear, is the human voice. You will only find the voices of their instruments. The voices that sing out when practiced human hands meet wood and metal and skin. The instruments Navá uses are varied, from the Persian santour, tar, tombak and daf, to guitar, banjo and bass.

“When we met,” adds Shahab, “we were all instrumental players and we wanted to explore that world. I think having a singer has advantages and disadvantages. It adds another layer and color to the music, and also has a more direct effect and connection with the audience because there are words involved. But it can take away from the instrumental and composed music. In a way, writing for an instrumental band is very difficult because you need to make that connection and attract your audience’s attention [without words].”

 

Instruments of Nava: Clockwise; Guitar, Santour, Bass, Tar, Daf, Banjo, Tombak.
Image: Courtesy of Nava.

Indeed, Navá has a way of captivating their audience. With each intricately plucked note, they create a sweeping landscape, a story of sound and feeling. “Music playing is storytelling in a very direct and personal way,” adds Shahab. Navá so beautifully demonstrates this way of storytelling, which is perhaps even older than words.

The ways in which musicians can interact with their audience(s) have changed greatly over the last year. Doing what we must to keep ourselves and our communities safe has pushed most of us to change how we move through our daily lives. Certainly, the pandemic has tested us all, but for musicians, and other performing artists, there have been a unique set of challenges as it relates to their work and way of life. And sharing music with a room full of people is such a beautiful and fulfilling dance of giving and receiving. It has always been a vital part of human cultures, and something that I never realized I took for granted.

Curious about how Navá has navigated this time without live music or touring, I asked Shahab what has kept them going, what has been challenging as well as what has been inspiring. To which he answered, “It really has been a tough year. We have been very affected by the pandemic. Thankfully we have been able to do a few online concerts in Ireland. We are so grateful for a recording grant that we have recently been awarded from the Department of Culture in Ireland.” 

It’s the safest for now to stay at home and try to be productive as much as we can. Music is very important…But people’s lives are much more important and any loss is irreplaceable. For me, socializing and interacting with people is inspiring. Attending concerts, theaters, and galleries is very inspiring and gives me a lot of ideas. And now we know that even living a normal life is inspiring.”

What’s next for Nava?

Thanks to the grant that they received, Navá will be recording their third album soon. It will feature a new sound and intends to examine influences from jazz and other genres, with some different instrumentation, including: Clarinet, bass, and electric banjo. 

Navá’s weaving of songs and traditions creates so much beauty in the world. A balm for these strange and enlightening times. 

May these new and ancient melodies travel out to all who need them. 

May we all gather inspiration for the ways we can breathe life into the cultures we come from, honoring them deeply. 

To stay up to date & follow Navá’s musical journey, including their albums Tapestry & Sojourns Vol 1, please visit and follow their social media profiles on:

Bandcamp, Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook.

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