This past weekend, Beverly Hills hosted the Golden Globes, a celebration of Hollywood’s best in film and television.
Less than 50 miles down the 405 freeway, Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts hosted the Golden Ebi, as more than 150 luminaries from the Persian entertainment community gathered to celebrate the iconic singer’s 50-year career.
Taking a cue from NBC — who last month aired a similar all-star concert celebrating entertainer Tony Bennett’s 90th birthday — London-based Iranian television network Manoto TV taped the January 7th gala in its entirety and will parlay footage from the star-studded event to produce a variety special honoring Ebi’s Legacy. The show is slated to air on all of Manoto’s platforms this March.
Flanked by his adoring wife Mahshid; beloved daughters Khatoun and Assal; and stepson and super manager Farshid; the 67-year-old legend was serenaded by more than half a dozen of his peers, who proudly took turns churning out their own personal renditions of some of their peer’s biggest musical hits.
One of the highlights of the night was Shahram Solati’s swinging interpretation of “Vaghti Delgirio Va Tanha (When You Are Sad and Alone),” a chill-inducing performance that jolted the crowd and elicited the first standing ovation of the night from the somewhat lethargic group of approximately 250 attendees.
The event was co-produced by Ebi’s camp, EMH Productions, and Manoto TV, the brainchild of Bebin.tv founder Kayvan Abbassi. Farshid Rafahi, Ebi’s manager, was the creator. While the majority of the attendees were invited guests, a few dozen were actually lucky enough to purchase high-priced tickets for the exclusive function.
The night commenced at 7 p.m. with a red-carpet arrival and photo opportunity with Ebi in the lobby of the Samueli theatre, an ancillary space connected to the renowned Segerstrom Theatre, home to Ebi’s early 2016 sold-out concert. An 8 p.m. cocktail reception provided a nice mingling opportunity for singers, media members and other key figures in the Persian entertainment realm, a sight not common in the community.
As entertainer Andy lamented in the 1st speech of the night, such a convergence of “industry people” is common in other entertainment markets, but whether due to scheduling conflicts, lack of organization or a myriad of other factors, such gatherings are virtually nonexistent in the Persian entertainment realm.
“Every year I sit at home, just like I will this upcoming March, and [marvel] at an event like the Grammys,” Andy expressed. “I hope for the day when we will have our own Grammys. I hope tonight shows us that we do have what it takes to get to that level.”
Andy’s poignant speech was preceded by a moving opening performance by soul singer Rana Mansour. Event emcee and Manoto TV personality Raha Etemadi gave the crowd a brief breakdown of how the night would go logistically (there would be several commercial breaks and audience participation was requested for some of the transition into and back from the cuts) prior to introducing Mansour.
Prior to entering the ballroom and taking their seats at their respective round tables – the setup was similar to that of a wedding but with no dance floor – guests were warned not to use their cell phones to capture photos or video clips of the event. Special security was even hired for the sole purpose of curtailing any such efforts.
Mansour was followed by the legendary Sattar; the revered Faramarz Aslani and wingman and music impresario Babak Amini on the guitar; Solati; female pop legend Leila Forouhar; pop prince Shahram Shabpareh; the ageless Morteza; ever-popular brother tandem of Kamran and Hooman.
Invited Guests included Javanan Magazine publisher Mehdi Zokaei and his son, Mayar; singers Siavash Ghomayshi, Shahbal Shabpareh, Shahram Azar, Ardeshir Farah, Pyruz, Michael, Shahab Tiam, Pyruz, Shahram Azar, Farshid Amin, Sepideh, Helen, Hengameh, Kamyar, Erfan and Nadia Ali, among others. Several other entertainers were also spotted, including comedian Max Amini and actor Ali Pourtash. Journalists Homa Sarshar and Alireza Meybodi; prominent lawyers Ali Parvaneh and Mike Kazerouni; and music video directors Alec Cartio, Sirous Kerdouni and Alex Ferra were also seen enjoying the night. Cabaret Tehran founder Ahmad Masoud and producer and entrepreneur Adam Shoebi left their respective companies on “auto-pilot,” as Etemadi joked, for a night out to celebrate not just Ebi, but also the essence and history the Persian music itself.
As impressive a turnout by the entertainment industry’s elite as the event was, there were also some figures whose glaring absences were definitely noticed. Legendary diva Googoosh — whose video testimonial to Ebi was aired in the middle of the night — and crooner Dariush, who along with the Ebi comprise the “Big 3” of the Persian music market, did not attend. Also absent were singers Moein, Omid, Mansour, Shadmehr Aghili and Arash, who also had his own video message to Ebi shown.
And while Omid Iran Television Network founder and host Nader Rafiee, Mehran Abdeshah of IPN and longtime Iranian television staples Kourosh Bibiyan and Farzan Deljou were in attendance, Tapesh’s Alireza Amirghassemi and Iran Television Network’s Hamid Shabkhiz were not.
Ebi’s middle daughter, Sayeh, also did not make the event as she was at home resting after recently giving birth to Ebi’s 1st grandchild in December.
The unprecedented event went off without any major hiccups, thanks in part to the efforts of Siavash Davarnia, who is kind of a jack-of-all-trades for the Ebi camp. Incidentally, Ebi actually forgot to acknowledge Davarnia during his short speech, but atoned for the error by planting two big smooches on his bandmate after exiting the stage. Some among the crowd, however, could be heard jokingly comparing the night to a marathon, as most arrived promptly for the red carpet walk at 7 p.m. and were there until the guest of honor graciously capped his thank-you speech at 1 in the morning. If not for Solati’s out-of-this-world, exuberant performance, the crowd would probably not have mustered enough energy for the night’s remaining acts to feed off.
Perhaps the lack of overall energy for the event was caused by the sheer lack of numbers of people in the crowd. One could surmise that most of the night’s performers have probably not performed in front of such a relatively sparse group; in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find Persian singers even performing at weddings with so few guests these days.
Most tributes or similar types of events in other entertainment markets are usually held in front of hundreds — if not thousands — of people, where well-timed jokes set off large waves of laughter and standing ovations sometimes warrant the use of ear plugs. This event, however, was small and exclusive, which for most of its intent was probably they way the producers wanted it, but for some in the crowd, somewhat of a shortfall.
Such a pioneering effort by Ebi’s camp and Manoto TV should not go unappreciated however, and viewers will soon get to the experience magic of the historical night themselves when it airs. The program will be among Manoto’s special Persian New Year, or Norouz, broadcasts.
BEST DRESSED AWARD GOES TO…
The night belonged to Ebi — who looked dashing in a grey tuxedo jacket, silky black trousers and elegant bowtie to complete a distinguished yet hip formal look — and Mahshid — who was a true beacon of beauty in an off-the-shoulder, full-length purple dress.
But among the attendees, it was pop songstress Sepideh who stole the show. Accompanied by handsome husband Dale Sercu, the blonde diva looked stunning in a red and black, full-length mermaid gown by Pedram Couture designer Pedram Pasha Tehrani. Though most eyes were on Ebi and his family on this night, you couldn’t help but notice how many heads turned when Sepideh arrived at the function.
NOT-SO-BEST DRESSED AWARD GOES TO…
This is a tough one, because for the most part, everyone stepped up their fashion game for this extravagant affair. However, there were a few fashion faux paus that could have been avoided.
Mystery woman Negar Nicole Araie from Toronto, who was Babak Amini’s date for the evening, is the complete package: pretty, slender and tall. In other words, a perfect candidate to wear almost any dress and look good doing it. However, her choice of outfit for the night was unflattering. The blush hue of the dress was exquisite. The dress itself? Not so much.
Black Cats band leader and producer Shahbal Shabpareh is the “Popfather” of Persian music, and arguably the hippest 76-year-old in the world. But on a night when the majority of his colleagues were dressed to the nines – this was a black-tie affair, after all – Shahbal dropped the ball in a major way, boasting a black, collarless shirt and a black leather jacket with slacks. In all fairness, suits and ties aren’t conducive to perpetuating the Black Cats’ rebellious, cool image. But even rappers Drake and Jay-Z know when that sometimes, one is relegated to wearing a 2-piece smoking.