A beautiful album, Monika Jalili’s Élan evokes a romantic, and at times, haunting journey through a collection of popular, acoustic Iranian songs. The talented New York-born vocalist originally trained in musical theater, and shares her enchanting voice and love of Iranian poetry in a simple yet sincere album, which features tracks in Persian, Azeri, English, and French. Jalili’s music incorporates traditional folk songs from several different regions in Iran, and has been described as a mixing of regional, microtonal Iranian music; Mediterranean sounds; and French romanticism, a time of increased cultural exchange in Iran before the fall of the Shah.
Unfamiliar with traditional Persian music, I listened to the album without expectations and was intrigued by the intense range of emotion. The opening track, “Ghoghaye Setaregan” (Dance of the Stars), emits an intense, painful longing, while “Arezooha” (Wishes) swings more toward a subtle, French pop love ballad with delicate vocals and a beautiful cello. “Gonjeshgake Ashi Mashi” (Little Sparrow) is an epic, upbeat revitalization of an old folksong, followed again by a subtle yet dark and equally moving, "Ay Rilikh” (Separation). Toward the end of the album are two incredibly dark, dramatic, and moving tracks: “Peyke Sahari” (Messenger of Dawn) and “Ay Vatan” (Oh, My Homeland). Various regional styles are also evoked by the tracks: for instance, a Brit pop feel in “Evlari Vaar” (To Bemaan), a hint of Asian vocals on “Biya Bare Safar Bandim” (Let’s Be on Our Way), and a Mexican bolero style in “Bia Bia Benshin” (Come Sit by Me).
Some argue that this album had the potential of becoming the best world music album of 2009, but it has gone largely under-appreciated in the mainstream industry. Élan is an incredible collection because it expands the listeners' appreciation of Persian music. With traditional Persian songs infused with Jalili’s western musical training, her clear soprano and vibrato ornamentation are apparent. Some have even suggested its power as a potential anthem for the next Iranian revolution, as it revitalizes the art and music that has been silenced in the past decades. I believe you, too, will be moved.