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The Verve: Spokane entertainer draws from Persian culture

Yasmine Cortier is a singer-songwriter whose work reflects her personal experiences growing up in America. (Dan Pelle)
Yasmine Cortier is a singer-songwriter whose work reflects her personal experiences growing up in America. (Dan Pelle)
Jennifer Larue

Yasmine Cortier is proud of her Persian culture though it hasn’t always been that way.

She sings about it in her song “Persian Conversion.” “Since childhood, my life has been like an illusion; being born one way not another, I felt like an intrusion,” she said. “I wanted so bad to fit in, be the same. Went out of my way, even changed my name…”

Cortier was born in England as Saghar Yasmin Mirghanbari-Amirebrahimi. She moved to the United States when she was 3. When she was about 7, she decided that her first name wasn’t working. “If someone called me ‘cigar’ one more time, I was going to scream,” she recalled. She chose to go by Susan through high school.

After graduating from Ferris High School, she went by Yasmine (adding an E) Mirghanbari. She attended classes in broadcasting and acting at Spokane Falls Community College then moved to California where she earned an associate’s degree from the National Educational Center in business and communication.

Her first husband was not an Iranian and that didn’t work out. Her second husband was a traditional Iranian. “I said, ‘Fine, I’ll do it your way,’ but that didn’t work out either.” She fled that marriage with two children in tow and headed back to Spokane.

In 1998, Cortier stood alongside 279 others at the Davenport Hotel, held up her right hand, and became an American citizen. She legally changed her name to Yasmine Cortier, and she set out to make her mark.

Since age 5, Cortier wanted to be an entertainer but, she said, “coming from a Muslem Iranian household it wasn’t something a Persian girl would be encouraged to do. My grandmother, who raised me, influenced the ethnic side of my music, and my aunts and uncles having been teenagers influenced my love of R&B and classic rock. When I sing, I am transformed.”

Cortier’s first CD, “Freak Magnet,” will be released in late spring and reflects her personal experiences through a mix of ethnic and bluesy beats. Songs include the jazzy love song “Second Chance,” funk inspired “Old School Lovin’,” “Spiritually Just” and “Persian Conversion.” In the latter, her son, Shawheen Azizi, raps.

Cortier works as a DJ and runs karaoke Friday and Saturday nights at the Puerta Vallarta restaurant in Spokane Valley. It was when she was singing karaoke that she met Robert Keyes, who played all the instruments, mixed and produced her CD out of his home in north Spokane.

For the past 12 years or so, Cortier has been entertaining. When she realized she had a way with an audience, she began adding comedy to her stage work. “Years ago, I used to tell people I was Mexican, and just when I started to feel comfortable with my true heritage, 9/11 happened and it was back to being Mexican again,” she laughed. “Those kinds of experiences have all made their way into my comedy routines and my songs.”

Cortier is proud of her Persian culture. For the past few months, she has been co-hosting the Persian Hour Saturdays at noon on KYRS community radio with Shahrokh Nikfar, sharing Persian music, recipes and facts.

“Through entertaining, I also want to educate and urge others to break stereotypes and be proud of who you are.”

The Verve is a weekly feature celebrating the arts. If you know an artist, dancer, actor, musician, photographer, band or singer, contact correspondent Jennifer LaRue by e-mail
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