Ali Akbar Sheida


Šeydā, the pen name of Mirzā ʿAli-Akbar Širāzi (b. Shiraz, 1259/1843; d. Tehran at the Ṣafi ʿAlišāh ḵānaqāh, 1324/1906), a Persian musician regarded as the most important composer of the lyrical popular song (taṣnif) in the late Qajar period. He was also a composer of ḡazals, a calligrapher, a singer, and a setār player. Persian classical musicians regard Šeydā’s taṣnifs as the best examples of the classical taṣnif, a song on traditional love themes and metaphors which is often composed in one section (guša) of a dastgāh. Šeydā drew on both court (ʿAbdallāh Dawāmi, interview, 28 September  1976) and popular tradition (Badiʿi, pp. 85, 92), in line with the 19th-century trend in language and poetry toward simplification and popularization. His taṣnifs appealed to a wide audience that was not confined to the circles of the court and aristocracy.

Mirzā ʿAli-Akbar left government employment in Shiraz to follow the spiritual leader (moršed) Ṣafi ʿAlišāh, a Sufi of the Neʿmatallāhi order (Ātaši, p. 14). He also followed this moršed’s successor Ṣafā ʿAlišāh, or Ẓahir-al-Dawleh, who founded the Anjoman-e Oḵowwat (Society of Brothers). An aristocrat during the time of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah, Ẓahir-al-Dawla became a political figure favoring the revolution during the time of Moẓaffar-al-Din Shah (Ḵāleqi, p. 75). He was also a taṣnif composer and encouraged musicians, including Šeydā. The concerts he organized in the Anjoman-e Oḵowwat included the leading musicians of the day and were directed by Darviš Khan, a student of the court musician Āqā Ḥosaynqoli and himself at one time in the service of one of the princes.

Taṣnifs of Šeydā were performed at these concerts, which were given at gatherings and celebrations of the Anjoman in Ẓahir-al-Dawla’s home or in the gardens of Bahjatābād or ʿEšratābād (Ḵāleqi, pp. 76-79). In what was considered the first public concert of its time, the Society held a 24-hour celebration of the birthday of the ʿAli b. Abu Ṭāleb, where many musicians played together in a new presentation of classical music that included pišdarāmad (overture), āvāz (vocal improvisation), taṣnif, and reng (in a dance rhythm) (Zonis, p. 144; Ḵāleqi, pp. 76-79). The orchestra performed pišdarāmad and reng compositions of Darviš Khan and taṣnifs composed by Šeydā, including the taṣnif “Mawlud,” which he composed specially for the festival in the dastgāh of Segāh (q.v.).

Although many of Šeydā’s taṣnifs were composed for the ceremonies of the ḵānaqāh, his love for a woman named Marżiya has been considered the main impetus for his taṣnif composition. As the story is told, ʿAli-Akbar, a Sufi dervish, old and impoverished, falls in love with a young Jewish singer, becomes consumed with this love, and writes songs to her and about her, singing them to himself late at night. He then leaves the ḵānaqāh (Badiʿi, p. 82), and when he is eventually brought back, “nothing was left of his body and soul” (Ātaši, p. 15). Biographers of Šeydā draw a parallel to the story of the mystic Shaikh Ṣanʿān, who falls in love through a dream with a Christian girl and leaves his students to become the tender of her pigs. The students eventually find him and bring him back to the path of spiritual pursuit. Both ʿAbdallāh Dawāmi and Ruḥallāh Ḵāleqi mention that at least one of Šeydā’s taṣnifs was written for his close companion, Esmaʿil, known as Sāqi, who played the tār, and who eventually killed himself over an unfortunate business venture (Ḵāleqi, pp. 354-55).

ʿAbdallāh Dawāmi, a master teacher of taṣnif and vocal repertoire, learned his taṣnifs from the family of the court musician Somāʿ Ḥożur, also a member of the Neʿmatallāhi order (Dawāmi, interview, 18 September 1976; Loṭfi, p. 13; Ḵāleqi, p. 146). Dawāmi, who knew and studied with leading musicians and was considered a major source for the taṣnif of the court, said that Šeydā had no formal training in music but attended gatherings of court musicians and picked up some knowledge of their style.

According to Moḥammad-Reżā Loṭfi (interview, 31 May 1975) and Nur-ʿAli Borumand (interview, 1 March 1975), the taṣnif of the aristocracy in the Qajar period used verses of an existing ḡazal, with the composer adding a refrain. It was a lyrical vocal form, based on amatory themes. Šeydā began by composing music on lines by classical poets, particularly Saʿdi, adding a refrain or writing his own lines influenced by Saʿdi (Badiʿi, p. 85). Khoshzamir classifies Šeydā’s taṣnifs in three groups: those beginning in a classical poetic meter (ʿaruż) and continuing with syllabic verses; those based only on ʿaruż; and those that are exclusively syllabic (p. 18). He also classifies these taṣnifs according to whether they have a slow tempo, a quick tempo (like reng), or a combination of tempi. Most of Šeydā’s taṣnifs are in the third category, with the first part in a slow tempo and the second part in a faster tempo on a different theme.

Borumand and Karimi both felt that Šeydā’s are the best examples of old taṣnif, in both poetry and music as well as in the relationship between the two. ʿĀref Qazvini, the well-known composer of political taṣnifs in the period immediately following that of Šeydā, also spoke highly of Šeydā in his Divān: “From twenty years ago, the late Mirzā ʿAli-Akbar Šeydā … made changes in the taṣnif, and most of his taṣnifs had pleasing melodies” (ʿĀref Qazvini, pp. 331-32).

One of the most famous singers of Šeydā’s taṣnifs in former times was Jamāl Ṣafawi (Badiʿi, p. 83). When in 1955 the Iranian radio began to present the Golhā programs, orchestrated settings of traditional Persian music, a number of singers appeared who became identified with singing the older taṣnifs. The singer Marżiya (q.v.) is largely responsible for reviving and reintroducing the works of Šeydā. This too has been added to the story of Šeydā’s love for Marżiya, that his works should be taken up, appreciated, and made known by another singer of the same name decades later (Ātaši, p. 15).

What remains of Šeydā’s poems and taṣnifs has not been determined with certainty, except for the existence of a collection of ḡazals copied for Ḥosayn Yazdi, one of the dervishes of Ṣafi ʿAlišāh (Ātaši, p. 16). The number of “authentic” taṣnifs claimed to be extant is variously ten (idem, p. 17), eighteen (Borumand, apud Khoshzamir, p. 17), and sixty (Badiʿi, p. 86)—a figure that includes all the Šeydā’s taṣnifs in Golhā program, most of which were recorded by Marżiya. Of the works consulted, Alā sāqiāEmšab šab-e mahtāb ast, and Duš ke ān mahlaqā were mentioned by four sources, including Ḵāleqi and Borumand, both of whom had contact with the older musicians who knew Šeydā.

For a music sample, see Shaydā – az ğam-e ‘ešq-e to.


Abu’l-Qāsem ʿĀref Qazvini, Kolliyāt-e divān-e ʿĀref-e Qazvini, Tehran, 1968.

M. Ātaši, “Az-yād-rafta-ʾi dar diār-e āvāzhā wa āvāzahā,” Tamāšā 4, 1974, ser. no. 179, pp. 12-17.

N. Badiʿi, Adabiyāt-e āhangin-e Irān, Tehran, 1976.

N. Caron and D. Safvate, Iran: les traditions musicales, Paris, 1966.

M. Caton, “The Classical Taṣnif: A Genre of Persian Vocal Music,” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1983.

R. Ḵāleqi, Sargoḏašt-e musiqi-ye Irān I, Tehran, 1974.

M. Khoshzamir, “Aspects of the Persian Tasnif,” M.A. thesis, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1975.

M.-R. Loṭfi, Musiqi-e āvāzi-e Iran. Dastgāh-e šur. Radif-e ostād ʿAbdallāh Dawāmi, Tehran, 1976.

F. Pāyvar, ed., Radif-e āvāzi o tasnifhā-ye qadimi ba rewāyat-e ostād ʿAbdallāh Dawāmi, Tehran, 2000.

H. Nayyer-Sinā, “Sargoḏašt-i az sorud o tarāna dar Irān,” Rādio Irān 18,1958, pp. 18-19.

E. Zonis, Classical Persian Music: An Introduction, Cambridge, Mass.,

(Margaret Caton)

Originally Published: January 1, 2000

Last Updated: March 8, 2012

  • Birthday: 1843
  • Death: 1906
  • Birthplace: Shiraz, Fars, Iran

Musician, Poet, Songwriter and Calligrapher

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