A conversation with Mentrix
following the release of her debut album
My Enemy, My Love
words by hannah boyle
photography by gilles-estève
There’s a distinctive richness embedded within the commanding sound of Iranian-born Mentrix (Samar Rad), thanks to the musical influences she has absorbed in her time living between cultures. A childhood informed by fleeing to France at the tail end of the Iran-Iraq war – before returning to her homeland and relearning her Farsi mother tongue for the first time as a young teenager – Mentrix now resides in Berlin, where she has come to channel her Iranian heritage in electrifying polyrhythms and arresting vocals.
“My musical influence is as rich as my journey growing up in different continents,” she tells us upon the release of her debut album My Enemy, My Love. “I was inspired by bringing together all these different elements.” These elements are evident throughout, the record an inspired blend of eastern and western sounds coexisting to create something entirely of Mentrix’s own creation. Switching from studying Latin and French literature as an adolescent, to Arabic and the Qu’ran, Rad’s influences are built from a life in motion, in flux, moving between the diverse landscapes she has occupied. There is no doubt that My Enemy, My Love follows this journey of exploring her sense of who she is and how her history defines her through sound. “This record was made gradually with the sole intention of expressing myself,” she writes from her home in Berlin.
“I am very connected to Iran. The truth is, I will always be an immigrant in Europe despite my citizenship.”
“Singing in English (my third language but the one I speak the most), using Iranian melodies and scale embedded in my DNA (whether I am conscious of them or not), became an urge on my quest to express myself and explore my identity.” This urge took form when Rad began writing songs while training with Iranian vocalists in LA and Paris, simultaneously teaching herself to play both the guitar and Iranian tar and dabbling with Ableton and music production. With a desire to experiment and create, the vision for the record soon took shape: “When it came to sound I wanted Daf (Iranian framed drum) to be at the core.” And it is certainly felt, the percussion pulsing through each track, reminiscent of a heartbeat keeping both the sound and self alive.
With an emphasis on Daf (Iranian framed drum), an instrument originally played in Khaneghah (The House of Present Time), a building dedicated to the practice of Sufism, Rad pays tribute to the sacred traditions that inform her art. There is also the addition of Tombak, the principle instrument of percussion in Iranian music and Nev, an end-blown flute with great significance. Rad describes the process of it’s creation: “The bamboo like grass which is used to make this instrument is dried for several years then cleaned out; this process is regarded as a mission one must complete within in order to reveal the sound of the original breath that was breathed into the human being.” The Kamancheh also features heavily with its sound sharper than violin but somewhat soothing.
“I believe that the world needs more positive and beautiful images of Iran, a country too often portrayed in a questionable way.”
“I am very connected to Iran. The truth is, I will always be an immigrant in Europe despite my citizenship. There is nothing like that feeling of stepping onto a land where you were born.” That homeland – or “pays d’accueil” (host country) as she calls it – seeps through the record, not only through the playing of Iranian instruments that are such a vital component, or the vocal chanting in homage to the mystic traditions of Persian sound, but in the unique sense of heritage that courses throughout. Mentrix’s visuals and words are built on strength and resilience, the history of her ancestry; an echo of the many voices that have come before, evoking that ingrained sense of timelessness. “It is my aim to connect my music to my birth place,” she writes, “especially because I believe that the world needs more positive and beautiful images of Iran, a country too often portrayed in a questionable way.”
That beauty speaks to the Sufi-inspired sound of My Enemy, My Love, a spiritual practice that Rad has come to cherish and one that values introspection and a meditative connection with the self. In its entirety, the record speaks to the illusion of the Duality of Existence, the belief of everything apart from ourselves as ‘other’. “Belonging is an illusion,” Rad writes to this unity of consciousness. “You are you. I am me. Before being Iranian, French, English… Before our sexual orientations, before our colours, there is that original breath, Existence itself. That is me. That is you.”
My Enemy, My Love is out now via House of Strength Records