Kurdish music overcame harsh oppression

Although it has been completely banned and brutally suppressed by the Turkish, Iranian, Syrian and Iraqi regimes for decades, Kurdish music has survived and flourished.

In the past, Kurdish musicians have been arrested for their Kurdish songs and even killed by these regimes. These regimes banned everything related to Kurdish music and songs.

“Saddam’s regime has banned all kinds of books on Kurdish music,” said Abdullah Jamal, a Kurdish music expert. “In the 1980s, when I was doing my master’s degree in music, I had no sources, no books on Kurdish music. And if you had had a book about it, you would have been arrested, or worse, killed.

Kurdish music is distinct from Arabic, Persian, Turkish or Armenian music. He is unique in his voice and rhythms.

Kurdish musical instruments include the tanbur, saz, qernete, duduk, kaval, shimshal (long flute), zurna (oboe), drum and daf.

Each village, each city, each region of Kurdistan has its own unique music. Siya Chamana, for example, belongs only to the Hawraman region, where each village has its own different version. Hayran is another example that marks the city of Erbil and its surroundings. Hayran talks about mountains, romance, social and cultural stories, and anecdotes.

Renowned musician Nawaf Ali Chato from Duhok is pictured performing in Kamancheh on July 28, 2021 (Photo: Kurdish Heritage Institute / Facebook)

Kurdish folk music has three genres: Chirokbej (storytellers), dengbej (bards) and stranbej (popular singers).

Kurdish music has different songs and styles for each profession and season. Payizok, for example, is back to summer pastures. There are different songs for different tasks in the village. For example, these are songs about drwena (harvesting body), sawarkutan (grinding burgul), qurshelan (clay working) and many others.

There are also hundreds of different types of Kurdish dance. For each type there is a specific song. Chamary and helparke, for example, have their own songs.

Kurdish music is rich in scales (meqams). Khawkar, hore, lawk, hayran, lawje, khurshidi, ay ay, bait and many more.

“Each meqam expresses part of the Kurdish suffering,” said Mohammed Baqi, Kurdish music historian. “Ay ay in the Garmiyan region is for the disappointment and the sad moments of separation. Lawk is for the heroes who have not returned to the fights.

And each meqam belongs to some specific regions. Baits, for example, belong to the region of Mukryan, from Chamary to Kirmansha, from hayran to Erbil, from hora to Sharazoor, etc.

Baqi explains that the source of Kurdish music is agricultural and religious practices.

For political reasons, little has been documented about Kurdish music. However, there has been some work protecting the culture.

Komitas, Armenian priest and composer, collected 12 Kurdish melodies, among the first, and published them in 1903 in a book entitled “Chansones Kurdes” (Kurdish songs).

Baqi published his detailed book on the history of Kurdish music in 2018.

Jean Pendant, French ethnomusicologist, collected and studied Kurdish music during his travels in Iran, Azerbaijan and Afghanistan. One of his remarkable books concerns a famous Kurdish musician Ustad Nour Ali Ilahi (1897-1974), whose music is unique.

Kurdish music flourished when pressure from the international community reduced censorship. Many Kurdish music groups have emerged and developed the culture. The Kamkars (Kamkaran) are an example.

“Kamkaran has brought Kurdish music to the world stage on a different level, a professional level,” noted Jamal. “They not only kept our music going, but also made it better.”

The Kamkars is a Kurdish family musical group made up of seven brothers and a sister. They occur all over the world. His most notable performance was at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2003.

“Music for the Kurdish people was part of a bigger revolution,” Baqi said. “Part of the freedom we have now is due to our music, so powerful and so incredible.”

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