Habib Zoufonoun (Zolfonoun)
Habib Zoufonoun was born in 1882 to a religious family in the city of Abadeh. His father, Haj Seyed Mirza, was the prime prayer leader (pishnamaz) in Abadeh. Haj Seyed Mirza’s forefathers were also religious scholars, so when Habib and his brother, Rahmat, were sixteen and eighteen years old, respectively, their father didn’t hesitate to send them to Isfahan to study religion.
But Habib was drawn away from his religious studies when he happened to walk past the workshop of the famous tar maker, Yahya, in Jolfa, Isfahan. Habib was immediately taken by the sound of the tar, which resonated with the Masnavi chants he had heard at home. After a few weeks of listening and watching with intense focus, he entered Yahya’s workshop and began learning the craft of tar-making.
By this time, Rahmat had, to his dismay, discovered Habib’s secret affair with music. Deeply concerned by Habib’s determination to leave religious studies, he made plans to return to Abadeh and discuss this matter with their father. But two months later, the two brothers learned that their father had suddenly died of pneumonia.
Six months after his father’s passing, Habib began building his first tar. Once the tar was ready, he began playing what he had learned at the Yahya workshop almost instinctively. For a while, Habib’s family (who lived with him) remained completely unaware of this turn, since Habib pursued his musical calling in secret. But soon they found out, and after many arguments and discussions, Habib came up with an extraordinary solution: he literally divided his father’s home into two sections, so that he could practice his music in his own space and not bother the rest. He eventually perfected his tar playing technique with masters in Isfahan.
As a young man, Habib selected “Zoufonoun”—which loosely translates to “jack of many trades”—to be the family name. He married and had nine children, five sons and four daughters. His second son, Mahmoud, and youngest son, Jalal, followed Habib’s path and today remain prominent figures in Iran’s traditional music.
Habib’s first tar can be seen on display at the Abadeh museum. The other tars he made are in the hands of his students and collectors. He also made other instruments and experimented with innovations in the art of instrument-making. Beyond music, Habib was known and admired for his knowledge of poetry and astronomy as well as his wit and calm temperament, which, like music, is a hallmark of Zoufonouns.
Habib Zoufonoun died in 1978 in Tehran.