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Esmail Navab Safa (1924 – March 8, 2005) was born in Kermanshah, Iran. His actual and complete name is Esmail Navab Safavi. He changed his last name in the late 1940s, replacing "Safavi" the suffix of his family name with "Safa" his pen name. This was at least partially due to the infamous acts of a political assassin who had called himself Navab Safavi, even though his real name was Mojtaba Mirlohi.

Esmail was a single child born in to a Isfahani / Tehrani family. His father Seyed Morteza Navab came from a prominent Isfahani family, belonged to a Soufi spiritual order and had studied French at "La Alliance". In the 1920s Iranian Customs was under Belgian control and they employed French speaking Iranians. In this way Navab Safa's father, Morteza had become an employee of the customs and moved to the border province of Kermanshah. The well-known 19th-century poet Neshat Isfahani was Navab Safa's great-uncle.

Navab Safa's mother, Khanom Koochak and her sister were members of the educated Bassiri-Gharb family from Tehran. When Reza Shah made women's education compulsory, the Bassiri sisters who were employed by the ministry of Education moved to Kermanshah. Navab Safa's mother, Mrs. Bassiri, as she was known, opened one of the first elementary schools in Kermanshah dedicated to the education of young women. Navab Safa's aunt also an educator, ran a girl's high school in Kermanshah. Navab Safa lost his father at the young age of seven.

Young Esmail was first initiated in to the world of music by having a private tutor teaching him the violin. Later he learned the playing of the traditional Persian instrument Seh Tar through self-teaching. He finished elementary school in Kermanshah with fellow prominent classmates Feraidoon Hafezi (later a Tar master) and Ata Behmanesh (a legendary sports broadcaster). He continued his education in Gorgan and later at Isfahan University.

Contents

Early efforts

Navab Safa was only twenty years old when he wrote "Vadeh Golrokhan" based on a Kurdish melody for the then famous Iranian singer Rouhbakhsh. In pursuing a career in music two individuals played an important role in Navab Safa's life. The first was Gholamhossain Mostaan, a writer of serial stories for Tehran's various periodicals and an able translator. Mostaan encouraged Navab Safa to work in the theatre and later in the radio. A chance meeting at Jameh Barbod, a theatrical organization ran by Esmail Mehrtash, had brought the two men together. At the time Mostaan was briefly in charge of the still young Radio Tehran. The second individual who helped Navab Safa with his musical career was Parviz Khatibi, a multi talented writer and theater director.

It was Khatibi who connected Navab Safa with the legendary singer Rouhbakhsh. Khatibi was also instrumental in getting Navab Safa involved with Towfigh magazine, the highest circulating satirical weekly of Iran, edited by Hossein Towfigh. Towfigh allowed many young poets, writers and artists to gain recognition for their work as they had a wide base of readers both nationally and internationally and the magazine was closely watched by governmental censors for it's anti-government pro democracy stance. Also at this time, the early 1940s, Navab Safa worked with a number of theatrical groups including Jameh Barbod. His contribution to the theater at this time consisted of writing satire for what was known as "Pish Pardeh" or before the main show, a kind of sociopolitical recitation written in the form of common man's poetry. Well known Reciters included Morteza Ahmadi and Ezatallah Entezami. Navab Safa wrote several such pieces for Jamshid Shaibani, a young innovative singer and one for Ezatallah Entezami who later became one of Iran's greatest stage and movie actors.

Writing for Towfigh magazine polished Navab Safa's satirical talent and created an opportunity for him to express his nationalistic tendencies. This was the time of Toudeh (communist) party activism and relative freedom. One of Navab Safa's well known Pish Paredehs dealt with the idea of nationalism in a satirical cloak. It was called "the debate between Toot Farangi and Shahtoot". Toot Farangi is strawberry and literally translates to "Foreign" Berry while Shahtoot (with an obvious reference to the King) simply means mulberry, the local variety.-

"Safa" the poet lyricist

Having achieved enough fame and recognition for his work, Navab Safa was invited to the first congress of Iranian Writers and Poets in 1946. A milestone in the history of modern Iranian culture, this congress was perhaps put together by sympathizers of the Toudeh party but never the less remained an uncensored and free forum and was presided over by university of Tehran professor Zainalabedin Rahnama and prominent Iranian writer Sadeq Hedayat. Navab Safa was perhaps the youngest member of this gathering.

From 1947 onward Navab Safa became an active lyricist working (at first) with composers Mehdi Khaledi and brothers Hamid and Majid Vafadar. Together with these musicians and the legendary Iranian diva Delkash they created such memorable songs as Amad Nobahar and Yadam Kon. Starting in the early 1950s and ending in the mid-1960s Navab Safa wrote some of the most memorable Iranian songs including Javani (Youth) for Ghavami and Hasti Cheh Bovad (What Is Existence?) and Cheh Shabha (What Nights) for Banan, Koja Miravi (Where Do You Go) for Marziyeh, Niloufar (Waterlily) and Takderakht (A Single Tree) for Pouran and Raftam (Parting Away) for Hayedeh.

Some of the more signature themes occupying Navab Safa's thinking and lyrical style included such existential questions as the essence of human loneliness, Soufi spirituality and the paradox of existence and impermanence in all things. Like other Persian poets he was found of metaphors and used them frequently in his lyrics. Some of the more recognizable metaphors he coined were, "Morning Dew" for impermanence of life, "Envy of Angels" for praising the "lover's" goodness and beauty, "Warm Teardrop of the Times" describing personal pain and difficulty and many more unique allegories and choice allusions.

In fact "Safa" as he was known to friends and family, thought of his lyrics as the extension of his poetry, never employing broken words used in colloquial and conversational language and always insisting on the link between modern musical interpretation and traditional Persian poetry. Yet his songs never appear as "stuffy", boring or too traditional. Many songs such as Niloufar and Amad Nobahar are happy and upbeat, displaying the joy implicit in their subject matter.

Perhaps Safa's success as a lyricist was partially due to the fact that he had studied music as a child. He was therefore more familiar with the requirements of melody when writing his lyrics. He always wrote his lyrics to the existing melody, that is, melody always came first.

In poetry he had chosen the Indian style (Sabke Hendi) which was associated with word play and delicate paring of metaphors in rhyme. In poetic sentiment he was perhaps closer to his contemporary friends Rahi Moayeri and Abolhassan Varzi.

Musical associates

Throughout his musical career Esmail Navab Safa was a close associate of and collaborated with many masters of traditional Persian music such as Abolhassan Saba, Hossain Yahaghi, Morteza Mahjoubi, Majid Vafadar, Ali Tajvidi, Habib Badiee, Abbas Shapouri, Parviz Yahaghi, the prodigy violinist who wrote his first song using Navab Safa's lyrics, and the young Anoushirvan Rohani, an accomplished pianist who also started his song writing career with Navab Safa. In later years Rohani composed the songs for a film by Samuel Khachikian, a pioneering Iranian movie maker, called "Farewell To Tehran" for which Navab Safa wrote the lyrics. His simple descriptive words captured the essence of the story in this melodramatic film about the love affair between a young air force officer and a blind woman. Many singers sang Navab Safa's lyrics including Banan, Ghavami, Marziyeh, Pouran, Elaheh, Ahdiyeh and Haydeh.

Career in the radio and government

Navab Safa was also a creative radio programmer and as such the innovative talent behind many interesting radio shows including "Karvani az Sher va Mousighi" (A Caravan of Poetry and Music), "Ghesehye Sham" (Candel's Tale), "Dar Pishgah Tarikh" (In the Presence of History) and together with Parviz Yahaghi he created "Dar Goushe va Kenare Shahr" (In the City's Outskirts) a weekly documentary program reporting on various urban crimes and mishaps. He introduced to the Iranian people many national talents by inviting them to the Iranian radio including master musician Mehdi Ebadi, writer translator Houshang Mostofi and folklorist Enjavi Shirazi.

During 1960s Navab Safa was given many government assignments including radio directorship of Zahedan, Gilan, Eastern Azarbayjan and Isfahan in addition to working as the director of Public Affairs department for the city of Tehran.

In 1975 Navab Safa was elected to the Imperial Iran's last parliament representing the city of Isfahan. Membership of the ill-fated Majlis or parliament was the last public position he ever held. A position from which he resigned on the eve of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Books and literary works

Before the 1979 revolution (in the 1960s) Navab Safa had published a selection of poems by prominent historical as well as contemporary Iranian poets who were featured on his radio show, Caravan of Poetry and Music. In the 1970s, while serving the government in Isfahan, he published two art historical monographs, "Birdhouses of Isfahan" and "Isfahan's Oil Extracting Houses". These works came about as a result of Navab Safa's personal interest while running the Office of Tourism and dealt with artistic and architectural merits of traditional Iranian Arts of the middle ages.

After the revolution Navab Safa remained active with publishing and editing books. He wrote his artistic memoirs titled "Ghesehye Sham", published a selection of his poetry and lyrics entitled respectively as "Az Yad Rafteh" (the Forgotten) and "Takderakht" (A Single Tree), edited the "Safar Nameh Farhad Mirza" (Travelogue of Farhad Mirza, a Ghajar Prince) and authored Farhad Mirza's biography as well as compiling Farhad Mirza's short writings known as "Monshaat". From 1979 till his death in March 2005, he contributed to a number of periodicals including "Ayandeh" and "Kelk". In addition he gave many interviews and assisted a number of young musicians, lyricists and poets with their careers.

Esmail Navab Safa died peacefully in his home on March 8, 2005, and was buried in Tehran's Behesht Zahra Cemetery in a special section reserved for artists.

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