The kamancheh (or spike fiddle) is a traditional instrument found in many countries and cultures along the historic silk route. It’s no surprise that in times past it had silk strings, as did many musical instruments along the journey. From Turkey all the way to China. In fact it was the prevalence of high quality silk strings that allowed the Chinese to develop very finely nuanced polyphonic music which came out of the rich harmonics and overtones which resonated in the strings. A long time before polyphony came to the Europe. The kamancheh, also called a spike fiddle, is an ancient instrument. The word itself means small hunting bow, suggesting that it had, at one time long ago, been a weapon before being converted into one of the most hauntingly voiced musical instruments to emerge from Asia.
The Persian ‘radif’ tradition is purely oral, not written down at all, passed on from generation to generation, over centuries, each master preserves what is ancient but shapes it further by adding his own innovations, so that the language of the kamancheh and the radif tradition is steeped in cultural history, but not frozen in aspic. It is a growing, living, breathing developing musical form.
There have been changes in the instrument itself too. At the beginning of the 20th Century the violin had come to Persia from Europe. It was chic, fashionable. The kamancheh had once only had two strings, gradually a third had been introduced, but with the popular intervention of the violin, many players adapted their instrument further by adding a fourth string, changing from silk strings to steel, re-tuning it from A D A D to G D A E. Some abandoned the local instrument altogether and just switched to violin. However due to the persistence of a handful of musicians, and against a backdrop of extreme social and cultural changes, especially in recent decades of course, the Persian spike fiddle retained its position as the esoteric voice of the ancient country.