Farzad Kashtiban brings Persian power-pop to Chico
Many Chicoans know the friendly face of Farzad Kashtiban, whether at his current job as banquet manager at Canyon Oaks Country Club or from his previous stints as a mortgage broker, manager of Applebee’s, even as a busboy at now-defunct Lyon’s Restaurant during his early days in town.
What folks might not know about the husband of Tamara and father of 16-year-old Kayla and 14-year-old Kevon is that he is also an accomplished singer and songwriter—known by the stage name Mahan—who performs an infectious style of music he terms “Persian power-pop,” a combination of passionately sung Middle Eastern lyrics (based largely on the poetry of Rumi, Omar Khayyam and Ferdosi) with Western-style rock and dance beats. For instance, the words of Rumi’s “Johan-e-Khomoosh,” a heartfelt conversation between man and God, with God telling man to be patient and have faith, are accompanied by Kashtiban’s triumphant rock/metal guitar.
Kashtiban adopted his stage name as a tribute to the small town of Mahan in his native country of Iran, the site of the ornate pilgrimage shrine of the Sufi saint Shah Nur-ed-Din Nematollah Vali. “When I was a teenager, my dad took me there, and I fell in love with the spirit of the [shrine’s] gardens. It’s a very spiritual place.”
He admiringly described the Sufi dervishes who still frequent the shrine as “very religious, very spiritual and very down-to-earth” people who “don’t like to be involved in politics.” Inspired by the example of the dervishes, Kashtiban’s music strives to bring “very peaceful and very positive thought” to the listener.
The youthful-looking Kashtiban, who shies away from revealing his age, tells me that he has been playing music “for a lo-o-o-ong time.” According to his Web site, he “began singing competitively” at age 16 but “was exposed to singing at a much younger age … listening to [his] grandmother sing during religious ceremonies … and [his] uncle … singing ‘pop’ music” out in his yard in Iran.
Kashtiban had been groomed to become a professional singer in Iran, but all of that changed in 1977 when his father sent him to live in the United States, a year before the collapse of the Shah’s government. Kashtiban was also an excellent soccer player and so ended up coming to play soccer at Chico State as “one of the last official exchange students from the ex-government of Iran to the U.S.
“Since things changed [politically in Iran] and I had to leave, I had to put my career [as a singer] on hold and I had to start everything over,” Kashtiban explained. “I came [to Chico in 1977] and saw a very large community of Iranians here, at least four times what it is now.” Kashtiban recalled that “90 percent of Trans-Pacific Gardens [a large apartment complex on Nord Avenue] was like a little Iran—the food, the smells, the music. I would walk through it and smell the kabobs, hear the music. It was a good thing for a young man. It was like I was home.” Kashtiban would perform with some of his fellow Iranians as a sideline, traveling occasionally to larger cities in the Bay Area or Canada to do so.
Today, Kashtiban firmly calls Chico home—"I love Chico,” he says unabashedly. During the years that he put down roots in the community establishing a family, friends and career, Kashtiban also worked on his music, adding knowledge of guitar, keyboard, music theory and songwriting to his polished vocal skills. “I started teaching myself guitar and learning theory at Chico State. I wanted to learn faster so I taught myself through books and videos [also]. … I [then] used all the principles of guitar to learn keyboard. … I write my music on the keyboard. … Artists here [in the U.S.] are free. There’s no censorship. Here, I’m a ‘freedom writer.’ People back in Iran can’t talk. I’m here. I can do it. … I’m taking this opportunity to showcase Persian literature with Western-style music. Persians are still loving, caring people … same as before this mess took over. I just want to change people’s attitudes about Iranians, about the Middle East…
“My job is to leave something behind,” the thoughtful Kashtiban summed up, “It’s not to go out there [just] to hear someone cheer.”