Adrienne Shamszad sings revolutionary anthems, prayerful power ballads, blues, lullabies, and love songs written from the depths of her heart. Her strong and soulful voice, expressive guitar work and bold performance style push her into the outer reaches of the singer-songwriter genre, and far beyond.
Her musical artistry is indeed something to behold. She is mystical, yet earthy. At one moment lofty, the next low-down. Adrienne’s poetry is intimate and genuine, inspired by the mystic Poets of Iran as much as the folk poet-songwriters of the 60s and 70s. She can transform a stage into a sacred place with the magic of her voice. Then, she sweeps you away on a musical journey through improvisation, folk melodies, Indian mantra, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and Iranian classics.
Her mixed cultural background, international travels, and deep love of people reside in her music. It can open listeners’ hearts to the unfamiliar and, in doing so, invite more understanding, courage and curiosity into this world. Since beginning formal training in Traditional Iranian vocal arts and music in 2016, Adrienne's music has expanded to a genre of it's own as she brings the messages of her ancestors into the present moment.
In 2018, Adrienne won the Living Cultures grant through the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA) to deepen her study of Persian Classical singing with master teacher and vocalist Mahsa Vahdat. She showcased her bi-lingual repertoire on the Freight and Salvage stage in August of 2019 to a full house.
Adrienne has performed with beloved and renowned artists such as Kitka, David Wilcox, SOVÓSO, Coleman Barks, and Mahsa Vahdat. She has been in productions by groups such as The Berkeley Repertory Theater, Golden Thread Productions, and Diaspora Arts Connection. She has supported dozens of other artists develop and hone their craft as a teacher and music mentor.
I was 12 when I played a guitar for the first time. I took a lesson from a guy who taught me how to pluck jingle bells on one string and I was so deeply annoyed that THAT’S all he thought I was capable of that I didn’t go back. But from that annoyance grew an open curiosity and I asked my mom, who had brought her big ole Yamaha dreadnought (with the floral inlay pickguard) out of retirement for this one miss of a lesson, to show me some chords. She taught me two Blues tunes: Trouble in Mind in E, and St. James’ Infirmary in Em. I sang and played those songs obsessively for months and my whole life changed. Suddenly I became someone who played guitar and sang songs. A year later I started writing my own songs too, and thus began the beginning of the rest of my life.
Music has flowed through me since the very beginning of ME. It has been my constant companion, like the soul that inhabits my body, and the force of Love that breathes life into my very being, Music is my essential…everything. I feel that I become essential when I am making music happen.
Whatever dark corridor life leads me down, or how miserable it feels at the edge of another heartbreaking serotonin collapse in my brain, no matter what time it is, where I am, when my hands find the strings or the keys again, and my voice makes that familiar journey into the sonic realm of “the not yet written song,” I remember that what felt broken in me, will soon be made whole again.
I tell my students, (who, by the way, are all my perfect and beautiful life-giving soul mates), that Music is a river. It is constantly in flow, forever and eternally has, is, and will be moving in, though, and around us, always on its way from the source at the top of the mountain where the information drops down back to the final destination which is the ocean of love.
When you love a song, that’s the music CHOOSING you! Music, this ancient force of love and life, has told you that it WANTS you to have communion with her nourishing waters.
The River of Music is such an amazing and accurate metaphor that we can play around with a lot. For example, as a teacher, I feel like a river boat captain! I’m there to guide my students, to share what I see and hear, but ultimately it’s you who will dive in and make your own relationship with these waters. As a songwriter, I feel like a brown bear out fishing for live salmon. Some moments are hard; the fish are slippery and the river is icy and rocky. Sometimes all I have to do is open my mouth and a juicy fat one flies right in. Only nature knows what’s in store. And songwriting really is like that - it is both time consuming and labor intensive and it’s also the easiest thing to do ever with the greatest reward. When I am performing, about to step on stage, I feel I am standing on the edge of a giant stone, looking down into the deep pools; I jump in, sometimes I dive, and am swept up by the powerful currents of singing for an audience, spinning and trusting, committed to a passionate dance with the river’s rhythm.
Then there are those times where it’s just me and my simple song, standing ankle deep in the warmth of a gentle day, alone in the woods, listening to the quiet babble of those gentle waters splashing against stones, letting my tears fall to become a part of everyone else’s songs. And when the work is done, and the drama of being a creator has subsided, I put on my two piece, get out my inner tube, blast some Led Zeppelin and splash around, floating on down to the next easy bank because sometimes the river is wide, and slow, and easy, and oh so perfect.
To paraphrase my mom, that same woman who taught me my first (useful) songs on the guitar: An artist's job is to walk up to the edge of the deep chasm within the self where all the darkness dwells, spend enough time there to get a good sense of it all, not fall in and then report back to the rest of us… This has been my truth. And since I’ve grown, I’ve added another piece to this task. It is also an artist’s job to venture out into what makes us beautiful, to go openly into the brilliant expanse of the great beyond, which is all love and all light, and which radiates within us all; to fall in and then come back to tell you the tale.
It is an honor and joy to live so close to the bone of my own life, and then somehow tell you all about it in a way that makes you feel it in your own bones… I am very fortunate indeed to live in the River, to be made pruney and sunburned by the water and the brightly lit sky, to see and feel so much… Let me tell you all about it over a couple of songs.
August 24, 2023 - Join host Ned Buskirk in conversation with singer-songwriter Adrienne Shamszad, crying & laughing their way through a conversation about living a life worth dying for, music as a way forward in the darkness of mental health struggles & existential crises, & honoring our ancestral lineage in song.
In The News
September 6, 2021 - Adrienne was featured in the BerkeleySide talking about her performance at the Freight & Salvage. Click the button below to read, "Iranian-American songwriter Adrienne Shamszad is on a ‘spiritual quest’"
March 29, 2019 - Live performance and interview on Full Circle KPFA with Cat Petru. Adrienne performs original tracks played in English and new songs she’d learned in Farsi and speaks about how music ignites our spirits, tends our hearts, and reminds us where we come from.
In The News
August 1, 2019 - Adrienne was featured in the BerkeleySide talking about her roots. Click the button below to read, "Looking for roots with Adrienne Shamszad."
July 28, 2017 - Live performance and interview on Full Circle KPFA. Adrienne shares songs from her EP Love You Without Fear, plays new songs live in the studio and discusses language, spirituality, and art as activism.