SAMĀʿI, ḤABIB (b. Tehran, 1284 Š./1905; d. Tehran, 1325 Š./1946), outstanding player of the santur (a kind of dulcimer), usually considered the greatest santur player of his time (Mašhun, II, p. 517).
Samāʿi’s first teacher of music was his father Ḥabib-Allāh Samāʿ Ḥożur, an accomplished performer of the santur, who started teaching his son how to play the tombak (drum) when the child was four years old. Before long Samāʿi began to accompany his father’s santur playing with his tombak. He then started learning how to play the santur, and by virtue of his own talent and his father’s conscientious and demanding teaching, he could perform this instrument with a good degree of proficiency by the time he was ten years old. At the age of twelve, he was proficient enough to play in the ensembles of the master musicians of the time. Samāʿi also attended music school for a while, where he learned some basics of musical notation, but he never made use of musical notes to write down his compositions (Naṣirifar, I, p. 303).
Samāʿi joined the army as a young man and spent a number of years on military assignments in Khorasan and Kermān; but he did not show much interest in pursuing a military career and never got higher than the rank of first lieutenant. When he finally returned to Tehran, with the encouragement of his friends, particularly Abu’l-Ḥasan Ṣabā, he started a santur class. His music classes quickly gained momentum and attracted a large number of students. Samāʿi, however, was not very keen on teaching and lacked the forbearance and perseverance required for this profession. Moreover, he was a rather moody and irritable person, often alienating students with his unwarranted critical remarks. Most of his students soon left his class except for a handful whose deep love of music induced them to tolerate his edginess. One of these students was Abu’l-Ḥasan Ṣabā, who stayed with him for about one year trying to learn Samāʿi’s particular techniques of playing the santur. Some others, such as Nur-ʿAli Borumand, Qobād Ẓafar, and Morteżā ʿAbd-al-Rasuli attended Samāʿi’s classes for ten to fifteen years. Manučehr Jahānbeglu and Ḥosayn Ṣabā also joined his classes but could not continue for long.
Samāʿi was one of the first musicians to join Tehran Radio when it was established in early 1940. His performances there were so widely appreciated by the public that soon the Department of Music (Edāra-ye musiqi-e kešvar), which was in charge of the musical programs of the Tehran Radio asked him to have himself transferred from the army to the Ministry of Education in order that he would teach music full-time. Samāʿi agreed at first and got himself transferred but soon changed his mind and transferred back to the army.
Samāʿi was an exceptionally talented santur player, who was also endowed with a charming voice, which he often used to accompany his music, thus creating an enchantingly combination. His strokes were gracefully measured, rapid, and fluent. Dāriuš Ṣafwat refers to him as a great genius (nābeḡa-ye bozorg) with brilliant creative talent and relates, on the authority of Nur-ʿAli Borumand, a case illustrating the profound effect that Samāʿi’s music had on his audience (Ṣafwat, p. 65; Ḥaddādi, p. 222).
Samāʿi’s greatest contribution to Persian music, however, was his rejuvenation of the santur, which, due to its complex nature that requires years of dedicated effort before one could master playing it, was rapidly falling into oblivion. When Samāʿi began his career, there were very few people in Persia who knew how to play the santur, but the broadcast of his masterful performances on Tehran Radio created such an excitement and enthusiasm that soon a large number of young people began learning how to play this instrument (Ṣafwat, p. 58; Ḥaddādi, p. 324).
Unfortunately not many of Samāʿi’s works have survived. The sole recording of his solo performances, which was kept in the archive of Radio Tehran, was erased at Samāʿi’s own insistent request (or it was erased to reuse the blank tape; Sepantā, p. 175). The only remaining pieces of Samāʿi’s performances are five gramophone records (in Māhur o Delkaš, Abu ʿAṭā o Ḥejāz, Bayāt-e Eṣfahān, Żarbi-e Šahnāz o Gereyli), in which he accompanies Parvāna, a well-known vocalist of the time (Ḵāleqi, III, p. 50). Samāʿi also composed a few rhythmic pieces, the best known of which is on a verse by the poet Moẓaffar Širāzi, which was later performed by the vocalist Purān Šāhpuri. Samāʿi died at the age of forty-one and was buried at Ẓahir-al-Dawla cemetery north of Tehran.
Šāpur Behruzi, Čehrahā-ye musiqi-e Irān, Tehran, 1993.
Noṣrat-Allāh Ḥaddādi, Farhang-nāma-ye musiqi-e Irān, Tehran, 1997.
Ruḥ-Allāh Ḵāleqi, Sargoẕašt-e musiqi-e Irān III, ed. Sāsān Sepantā, n.p., 1998.
Ḥasan Mašhun, Tāriḵ-e musiqi-e Irān, 2 vols., Tehran, 1997.
Ḥabib-Allāh Naṣirifar, Mardān-e musiqi-e sonnati o navin-e Irān I, 4th ed., Tehran, 1991.
Dāriuš Ṣafwat, Pažuheš-i kutāh darbāra-ye ostādān-e musiqi-e Irān va alḥān-e musiqi-e irāni, n.p., n.d.
Sāsān Sepantā, Čašmandāz-e musiqi-e Irān, Tehran, 1990.
(MORTEZA DEHKORDI and EIr.)
Originally Published: March 28, 2018
Last Updated: March 28, 2018
This article is available in print.
MORTEZA DEHKORDI and EIr., “SAMĀʿI, ḤABIB,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2018, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/samai-habib (accessed on 28 March 2018).