Gulpayigani, Sayyid ‘Ali Akbar (1933-), famous Iranian vocalist who excelled in the performance of both classical singing (avaz) and lyrical songs (tarana), who was one of the five eminent vocalists of the Gulha programmes from 1959-1974. He was born into a religious family of preachers and Qur’an reciters who sang the praises of the Prophet and the Shi‘ite Imams and was thus indued from birth with pleasant vocals. Not only Sayyid ‘Ali Akbar, but his brothers as well were all experienced and renowned in fields of music and singing. Sayyid ‘Ali Akbar Gulpayigani was educated as a professional surveyor. Owing to his acquaintance with the maestro of the modal system of Persian music (radif), Nur ‘Ali Khan Burumand (11905-1974), he studied all the modal system of classical Persian singing with him over a period of seven years, making use in the process of the teaching of elderly vocalists who still survived from the Qajar period. Gulpayigani made his debut in vocal performance in 1959 in the Gulha-yi Javidan programme no. 141, but only achieved long-lasting fame with his performance on the vocals in Barg-i Sabz programme no. 85 with the lyrics by Bizhan Taraqqi (Mast-i mastam, saqiya dastam bigir – “Totally Drunk I am, O Saki! Hold My Hand”) which he sang in the musical mode of Shur accompanied by Murtaza Mahjubi on the piano. Although his master Burumand at first looked askance at his joining the radio, very soon Gulpayigani decided to work for the radio on a regular basis, where secured a good position for himself on various radio programmes with the support of Davud Pirniya. With his stage-name of “Gulpa,” from 1950 onwards Akbar Gulpayigani created a new style in Persian classical vocals that attracted the general public to Persian classical singing in a more powerful and effective way that any previously known. In fact, his talent in fashioning a new style in presenting Persian classical singing, and the profound impression that his style made on people may be likened to the impact made by his contemporary, the virtuoso player Parviz Yahaqqi in his performance on the violin. Gulpayigani’s method was to strip off the refined artistry of the Persian vocal art, with all its intricate and complex sophistication—as had been expounded by its early masters like Adib Khwansari (Gulpa’s favourite vocalist), Banan, and Taj Isfahani—thus transforming classical singing into something simple, appealing, and easy for music lovers to commit to memory; in this manner, each of his performances became remembered like a well-wrought popular song (tasnif). Gulpayigani’s extraordinary talent in grasping the details of Persian melodies, his in-depth acquaintance with classical Persian poetry, and above all his appreciation of the requirements of the Zeitgeist brought him unprecedented opportunities. He filled the glaring gap that lay between the solemnity of classical Persian vocal art and popular lyrical singing (whose advocates included many a prominent vocalists from Dilkash to Vigen), forming a bridge between the two and thereby reacquainting the general public with beauty of the art of classical Persian singing. Akbar Gulpayigani was featured on vocals in numerous Gulha programmes in which he was accompanied by prominent solo instrumentalists who reflected his powerful vocal artistry, inventive mind, mastery of poetry, and his particular creative genius. At the apex of his fame as an artist, we find him accompanied by the violin of Parviz Yahaqqi and Habib’ullah Badi‘i, and by the tar of Farhang Sharif, and the santur of Reza Varzandeh. It is worth noting that contrary to many other vocalists, he did not make his debut as a singer of popular lyrical songs (tarana) but began his career as a classical singer. It was only after 1977 when he had ceased to perform in the Gulha programmes, that he revealed his genius as a singer of popular lyrical songs. During the years 1960-1978 his multi-dimensional and complex character became further manifest when he exposed his talent in other domains of Persian music, such as teaching classical singing (avaz), performing as a singer on television, as a successful performer in concerts abroad (indeed, he was one of the early Gulha vocalists to perform in concerts abroad), and as the founder of the earliest cassette recording companies. His abilities even extended to establishing cabarets and nightclubs, where he showed a clever knack for administrative management, an eye for commercial profitability and a genius at introducing a kind of Hollywood-like attractiveness on to the music scene in Iran. It might be said that as an artist he remains unrivalled in his ability at playing such difficult and multi-dimensional roles. He even enjoyed a brief acting career in Iranian commercial films between 1967-1974, which reflects the ‘Sinatra-like’ nature of his personality.
In reality, Akbar Gulpayigani was singer who, by the intelligent appreciation of social circumstances, presented an appropriate music for every occasion and so managed to enjoy success in all his artistic and business ventures. His performances were geared to suit each occasion, such that he performed on the Gulha programmes in one way, in another manner on television, in still another way in private gatherings, public concerts, cabarets, etc. Musicians of a religiously fundamentalist orientation of course disdained this novel style of his, for they expected him to remain to the end of his life a faithful student of Nur ‘Ali Khan Burumand’s student and make repeats over and over again the same timeworn Persian classical radif. However, Gulpayigani trod his own way and has thus enjoyed the warm welcome of Persian society over the past fifty years. Nonetheless, it is worthy of note that over the past thirty years [since the Iranian revolution of 1979], he has been banned from holding any public concerts in Iran and prohibited from performing or having his songs played on the radio and TV. From 1980 onwards his activities have been limited to either private teaching at home, performance in concerts abroad, or releasing cassettes, albums and CDs that have enjoyed quite a wide circulation. The apparent political justification for this state ban on his music lies in his purported royalist tendencies prior to 1979.
Golpa’s performance on the vocals in the Gulha programmes reflects his particular style of singing, in which slight traces of the vocal styles of Adib Khwansari, Banan, and Qavami can be heard. However, above all, his own particular artistic tastes are revealed in these programmes. He himself considers that he owes the illustriousness of his career in the Gulha programmes largely indebted to Davud Pirniya’s expert directorship and refined tastes. Pirniya’s intensely sympathetic approach to music bestowed unprecedented prestige on the field of Persian music. In fact, Gulpayigani’s performance in the Gulha may serve as the best touchstone to evaluate the success of his work as a trained vocalist with a distinct style. In his travels abroad, he has succeeded in obtaining decorations, medals, an honorary Ph.D. degree as well as other honours and titles. His presence of mind, powerful vocal artistry and his ever-youthful power of feeling when accompanied by the best soloists of the day on those programmes allowed him to reach a level of artistic achievement that he hardly ever equalled later on in life. Musicologists today regard him as Frank Sinatra of Persian Music. His numerous albums include Ru-yi bargi binivis ‘ishq (Write Love on a leaf) accompanied by Fazlu’llah Tavakkul (Tehran,2005).
Sayyid ‘Ali Riza Mir‘ali Naqi