Two sounds fuse together in first concert of Pacific Performing Arts series

Raised a world apart, Costa Rican Jorge Strunz and Iranian Ardeshir Farah met in a Santa Monica abode more than thirty years ago where the two soon realized they spoke a universal language — the music of acoustic guitar.

Kicking off Pacific University's Performing Arts Series, Strunz and Farah will share the cultural riches of their home lands on guitar at the Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center in Forest Grove on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m. The duo will play in a quartet along with flute player Katisse Buckingham and percussionist Majeed Ghorbani.

It was 1979 and Strunz, living in Los Angeles, had already released four albums on Capitol records with his Latin jazz band Caldera. He had been looking for another guitar player to form an acoustic duo when a friend called to say he would be stopping by with a friend and a fine guitarist, Ardeshir Farah.

Farah had recently graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in engineering, but spent most hours practicing on his guitar. Strunz had studied linguistics at Georgetown before moving west to follow his true love for music.

Brothers of guitar from afar

Born in Costa Rica, Jorge Strunz started playing guitar at age six. Strunz traveled with his family to Colombia, Mexico, Spain, England and Canada following the diplomatic duties of his father, along the way he studied and played flamenco and classical guitar.

Raised in Iran, in a beautiful old house filled with the sounds of his uncle's violin, a performer of the Tehran Symphony, Ardeshir Farah began playing guitar as child. He improvised from popular music until moving to England for schooling.

As a teenager, Strunz traveled with Spanish dancers and singers as a professional flamenco guitarist before turning his focus to Latin American roots music, Caribbean and Latin folk, and eventually, jazz. Farah performed and recorded with top expatriate Persians who fled Iran after the country’s 1979 revolution. He is considered the first to bring Middle Eastern inflections to modern guitar.

Strunz invented a new style of Latin guitar-playing that combines hand techniques from flamenco, Latin folk and classical guitar with high-speed linear plectrum playing.

When the two guitarists met and sat down together to play that day in Santa Monida, a colorful and exotic sound formed, possibly the first fusion of Latin American and Middle Eastern music performed on guitar.

Their unusual mix of culture — echoes of Farah's Persian upbringing strung with Strunz's Spanish roots rich in flamenco, folk and classical guitar tied together bound together with jazz and Jimi Hendrix — sparked a binding chemistry between the two guitarists.

While record companies couldn't handle their “exotic” new music, the two artists enchanted open-minded audiences with their melodic, rhythmic and passionate style of guitar playing, one that still captivates today.

Long live magical music

Defining world music before the term even existed, Strunz and Farah produced their first album together, Mosaico, in 1980. Since then, the duo have issued 17 other records.

“The music is beautifully placed and composed — magic — that has a certain timelessness in and of itself and gives it a longevity,” said Strunz.

Now recording new pieces for a new album for their own record company Selva (“jungle” in Spanish), the artists are still challenged to make fresh music.

Often, Strunz says, ideas for a song will arise from a solitary muse — looking hard out the window for a sudden inspiration. Then the busy work begins. The two musicians individually compose material and then come together to arrange and harmonize a piece.

“Flute here? Violinist there? Bass or no bass?” said Strunz. Once arrangements are made, they learn to play it all on guitar.

Today, both Strunz and Farah live in Los Angeles and frequently perform at venues throughout California. And Strunz and Farah are preparing to head overseas after their stop at Pacific, they’ll be in Panama in mid-October and New Delhi and Dubai in early December.

Having performed together for more than three decades, Strunz and Farah’s working relationship rarely hits a speed bump. “The music takes up so much of our time and energy,” said Strunz. “It really doesn’t leave time for much else.”

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