"I love shattering musical stereotypes," Galeet Dardashti said. Her energetic quartet, Divahn, plays Sephardi and Mizrahi music with an American twist.
The group's adaptation of a 16th-century Iraqi zmira (tune) blends banjo and tabla drums. Bluegrass-influenced violin infuses a Ladino wedding song.
Dubbed "best new band of 2001" by the Austin Chronicle, its members sing in Farsi, Aramaic, Arabic, Ladino and Hebrew.
No wonder Divahn stands out among American groups, such as The Klezmatics, who emphasize Ashkenazi fare.
"We're proving Jewish music doesn't just mean klezmer," Dardashti said.
Divahn, performing at the University of Judaism on Aug. 17 -- reflects Dardashti's diverse musical heritage. Her late grandfather, a renown Tehran chazan, was also a famous singer of Persian classical music before relocating to Israel. Her father, Farid, served as a cantor at Valley Beth Shalom and other synagogues while Dardashti was growing up in Encino and other U.S. cities. Since childhood, she performed Jewish music with her family in a traveling troupe.
Yet she was reluctant when percussionist Lauren De Albert approached her about forming Divahn while she was at the University of Texas in 2000. Immersed in doctoral studies in cultural anthropology, the 30-year-old singer-guitarist figured she wouldn't have time.
Researching her dissertation changed her mind: "I was studying the emerging popularity of Middle Eastern music in Israel, where it was previously marginalized in favor of Ashkenazi music," said Dardashti, now continuing her studies on a Fulbright/Hays fellowship. "I was also learning about how this marginalization affected my grandfather."
She agreed to form the band, in part, to reclaim his musical roots.
The Austin-based ensemble went on to receive rave reviews for its eponymous CD, released on its own label, Miz Rocky. While the label's title is tongue-in-cheek, the political message is not.
"Just as we're shattering stereotypes about Jewish music, we're also shattering stereotypes about the historical, cultural relationship between Arabs and Jews," Dardashti said.
Divahn will perform Aug. 17 in the UJ's Mulholland Nights concert series with Elan. $25. 6 p.m. (reception), 7 p.m. (concert). For tickets, call (310) 440-1246.