Iranian multi-instrumentalist Pezhham Akhavass and tar/setar player Shahin Shahbazi. Photo by Ian Williams

While President Trump is crafting the new version of his immigration ban on seven Muslim majority countries, Iranian musicians Pezhham Akhavass and Shahin Shahbazi demonstrated what the ancient culture has to offer Friday night at the Red Poppy Art House in the Mission.

The ban has affected the musicians directly. Akhavass’ sister, a painter, was recently accepted by universities in Portland and Chicago “but because of this ban she cannot come,” said Akhavass. “It’s affected the people who come here to study, to start a new life. It’s sad.”

As the administration works to refine its position on immigration and how to approach it, the Mission falls back on its diverse roots. The Red Poppy Art House, a hub of interdisciplinary art, often puts on shows that transcend generation and genre at 2698 Folsom St. This breadth of culture has afforded an opportunity to see what Persian tradition has to offer.

The audience of 50 filled the 650 square foot venue to see the renowned musicians play the tombak, daf, tar and setar–traditional Iranian instruments. The Poppy, which provides both couches and fold-out chairs for its audience, had none left by the show’s beginning. Several had to stand for the two-hour performance.

“I think it was about two-thirds new people tonight, which is great.” said Julianne Quimby, host of the evening’s performance. Although the crowd represented more of the Persian community than typical, it also drew in the curious.

“This is an exposure to (Iran), and I’m looking forward to it,” said Chris Martin, who came to support the show. “I don’t advocate for racism, and I don’t advocate for the anti-immigrant policies that he’s (Trump) espousing. I think it’s antithetical to the culture we currently have in 2017.”

The political climate has affected not only those who wish to enter the country, but also those who are already here.

“I don’t feel safe sometimes,” said Akhavass, who played the tombak and daf, a goblet drum and frame drum, respectively. Akhavass, who now resides in San Francisco, used to travel across the country to perform. He will no longer do so. “I’m kind of afraid, because something can happen–I don’t know.” Akhavass intends to stay on the U.S. coasts where his business isn’t affected.

There was no shortage of goodwill at the Poppy. Amid the roaring of the daf and strumming of the setar, a small woman appeared in the parted crowd. Without hesitation or a word she approached the musicians and laid roses at their feet, only to turn and walk out the door. The flowers remained there until after the show, where they were picked up and taken home.

“I believe in love, I believe in music, I believe we should connect. I don’t know what’s in Donald Trump’s mind, but I respect everyone and I hope that everything goes well,” said Akhavass.

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