A typical Saturday evening in Chicago ~ busy traffic, circling the long city blocks to find parking space, running in high heels, compromising a seat in a sold-out event as Chicago rolled out the red carpet for its stars in one big ensemble featuring singers, musicians, lyricists and audience that cheered to more than twenty talents that took stage at Edenâ€™s Banquet, a.k.a. the Assyrian Social Club this weekend.
Despite the winter blues, the Chicago Assyrian community did not deter from celebrating the musical career of its own, the legendary John Dashto, marking thirty years of stardom in his hometown. Chicago, the city of immigrants, politics, and showbiz has birthed the most successful Assyrian artists, and cradled the longest recording and performing careers of many talented pop and folklore genres. It is the spice, jewel, and talk-of-the-town where dreams do turn into realities.
Singer, song writer, and musician John Dashto was born in the historic city of Nineveh, and raised in Kirkuk, where he pursued his formal musical education. In spite of having a very young career in his birth country Iraq, John took center stage alongside Ashur Bet-Sargis at the Assyrian Youth Association only weeks after arriving in Chicago in 1978.
Since then, he has recorded four albums and served on musical panel (Assyrian Superstar). A singer, musician, and song writer, his contributions include to the likes of Sargon Gabriel, George Gindo, Janan Sawa, Juliana Jendo, Malik Merza, and Ewan Shamdinany, to name a few. Johnâ€™s own creation has been the daring infuse of â€œHewa,â€ Southern Iraqi folklore music, into modern Assyrian sounds. He is most well known in galoota (Assyrian, diaspora) at the height of his career in Chicago in the 1980â€˜s, where he enchanted his audience at the original Assyrian Social Club and Assyrian American Association as crowds gathered to hear his earlier recordings, â€œMin Nagestan,â€ â€œAwara,â€ â€œGasheq, Gasheq Biyee,â€ and â€œLewat Bas Aten.â€
For die-hard John fans, history was revisited as the stage was opened by welcoming speeches from Mr. Hirmis Tairo who delivered Johnâ€™s biography. Mr. Ninos Nirariâ€™s speech included Johnâ€™s symbolism as an artist, and the memoir of the two, a poet (Ninos), and an artist (John) for 35 years. Likewise, Mr. Ishaq Ishaq from Iraq spoke on the importance of the morphing power behind an artistâ€™s role within a nation. As the crowd sat back, taking in everything in a single breath, Sargon Gabriel hosted the striking musical montage, while Venus (Agnes Youkhanna) graced the stage, followed by Sargon Youkhanna, Lazar Malko, Odisho Odisho, Shabeh Lawando, David â€œchaplayaâ€ (Assyrian, lefty) Simon, Wisam Zaia (Al Iraqi), Zander David, Salim Sefo, Raad Zaia, Sargon Rasho, Fatin Shabo, Enwiya â€˜Banipalâ€™ Giwargis, Avadis Sarkissian, Johnny Youkhanna, George Gindo, and Livon from Holland. Among other singers who attended the event were Elizabeth Oshana, Isabell Ishtar, Joe Eivanoff, Dr. Roney Pera, Melis Eshaya, Steve Jallo, and Albert Oscar.
But it was the belting of Dashtoâ€™s â€œShqolee oâ€™Pareqlee,â€ dubbed by Youel Odisho â€œTouwee,â€ penned by the late Warda Khnanisho that brought the stage to life, backed by music legends ~ base guitarist Raymond Jammo â€œNee Nee,â€ guitarist Johnny â€œGuitar,â€ and drummer Pani.
In an exclusive interview with John Dashto, his words were: â€œNo matter what I say, it is not enough. Every person that has attended tonightâ€™s event is because they care, and I have a lot of respect for that. With an open heart, we welcome back people into our lives whom we have not seen in years.â€
The event was hosted by Chicago Assyrian singers and musicians. As for John Dashto, he has opted to remain in the meezalta (Assyrian, parade), singing for his people. Clue: never underestimate the power of Chicagoans. John, we love you.
~ Helen Talia
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