Iranian-American composer, pianist, and educator based in San Francisco, California. Founder of Flying Carpet Festival.
Sahba Aminikia is an independent composer and educator who believes in music to be a catalyst for change.
Born in post-revolutionary wartime in Iran, Aminikia was raised during a newly configured democracy that evolved from mass-executions, war, and violence into a society that—through the use of internet and technology—challenges the current political and social infrastructure. Highly influenced by the poetry of Hafiz, Rumi, and Saadi, as well as traditional, classical and jazz music and the albums of Pink Floyd, Beatles, and Queen, Aminikia cites music to be an immersive, transcendent, yet visceral human experience. He is curious about the duality in existence, and musically explores subjects that confront the pursuit of enlightenment amid darkness. A conscientious soul, due to his upbringing, he attempts at finding a common understanding for communication and dialogue through music. And, as a result, throughout his career, he has composed pieces that express the inevitability and triumph of hope.
Today, Aminikia collaborates with other artists to create and compose meaningful work. He has been trained in musical composition under Iranian pianists Nikan Milani, Safa Shahidi, and perhaps most influenced by work with his first classical teacher, Mehran Rouhani, a post-graduate of Royal Academy of Music and a former student of Sir Michael Tippet. He later relocated to Russia where he studied at the St. Petersburg State Conservatory under Boris Ivanovich Tishchenko—a post-graduate student of Dimitri Shostakovich. He received his Bachelor of Music and his Master of Music with honors from San Francisco Conservatory of Music under David Garner and David Conte where he was the proud recipient of Phyllis Wattis Foundation scholarship. He has also received individual lessons in life and in music from David Harrington, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Conrad Susa, Luciano Chessa, John Corigliano, and Oswaldo Golijov as well.
Recently, San Francisco Chronicle's has referred to Aminikia as “an artist singularly equipped to provide a soundtrack to these unsettling times.” His musical pieces have been widely performed in United States, Canada, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Italy, Poland, China, Greece, Turkey and Israel and at venues such Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Le Poisson Rouge, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF Exploratorium, SFJAZZ and Saint Anne's Warehouse. Aminikia’s compositions have been commissioned by theatre troops, contemporary classical ensembles, film scores, Persian traditional music groups as well as jazz bands including Kronos Quartet, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Symphony Parnassus, San Francisco Conservatory of Music New Music Ensemble, Mobius Trio, Delphi Trio and Living Earth Show. His third string quartet, “A Threnody for Those Who Remain", commissioned by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Kronos Performing Arts Association, was described by Financial Times as “An experience not to be easily forgotten”. And similarly, his widely known “Tar o Pood” (Warp and Weft)—commissioned by Nasrin Marzban for Kronos Quartet—was the second-place recipient of the American Prize 2015 in composition, professional chamber music category. Aminikia has recently been the artist-in-residence at Kronos Festival 2017, an annual festival held by legendary Kronos Quartet at San Francisco SFJAZZ throughout which ten of his works including four new pieces were performed. His most recent piece for the same festival, was a collaboration between Kronos Quartet, San Francisco Girls Chorus and Afghanistan National Institute of Music which resulted in a 20-minute choral piece named "Music of Spheres".
Aminikia is also the Artistic Director for Flying Carpet Festival, a mobile music festival which serves children in need in war zones. He also serves as the Musical Director for Sirkhane, a non-profit organization based in Mardin, Southern Turkey which serves around 40,000 children through circus arts and music.
Born in post-revolutionary wartime Iran, I and many of my generation experienced a tumultuous childhood in the Iran of the early 1980s. This generation watched a new-born democracy evolve from mass-executions, war, and violence into a society where internet, Facebook, and Twitter altered the political and social infrastructure of the past permanently. I was born and raised in Tehran, where the traditions of the past and the most progressive influences of the region are constantly in a state of struggle. Living in such a state of conflict, I needed to define my own identity, dismissing a wide variety of the choices that were already made for me and the children of my age.
In the Iran of 1980s, music was completely banned from media and live events and was only allowed in the format of revolutionary chants and Quran recitations. Later on, in late 1980s, Persian traditional music and western classical music were added to this list. Women have always been banned from singing in public, starting with the Islamic revolution and with the downfall of the Shah in 1979.
From the very early days that I started living outside of Iran, I realized that being brought up in such circumstances could further alienate me from starting a new life in my new country, and that even talking about such harsh experiences could add to people’s fear of the middle east, Islam and unknown cultures.
Life in Tehran taught me to appreciate hardship and beauty at the same time, and this is something that, due to heavy media propaganda, is mainly obscured in Western minds. I was brought up with the poetry of Hafiz, Rumi, and Saadi, and with Persian classical music, but was also largely exposed to the music of Pink Floyd, Beatles, Queen, and various jazz musicians. This conflict between the morals of a theocracy and Western cultural imports also exists in my mind, and I see it as a life process towards finding a common ground for communication and dialogue in my music.
I think of music as a medium for me to communicate and share my experiences with audiences of different backgrounds. I think identifying hope and beauty in the most horrific human experiences and including people of different backgrounds in a process of sympathy to that which our fellow humans have endured could further develop a peculiar sensitivity in human beings which enables us to look at our fellow humans’ griefs and joys and consider them our own.
I think Saadi Shirazi, the 13th century Persian poet, depicts this marvelously:
"Human beings are members of a whole
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain
The name of human you cannot retain.”