Introducing Kurdish music

What do you know about Kurdish music? if not much, then this post might help. I’m going to give a basic introduction to the world of modern Kurdish music. It’s only a small sample, for now, but I’ll give regular updates when new songs, albums and video clips are released, as well as look back at Kurdish classics.

Kurdish music in general, like most other music, is a lot to do with love and partying. However, we do also tend to put a lot of emphasis on political, cultural and societal issues. This is a tradition in Kurdish music that goes back as long as anyone can remember, and you will see it in the first artist I’ll introduce you to.

Aynur Dogan is by far one of my favorite Kurdish singer/musicians. She is popular with all Kurds throughout the Middle East. Aynur is originally from Dersim (Tunceli in Turkish) and gained fame in 2004 when cultural restrictions on the Kurdish language were loosened in Turkey. She burst onto both the Kurdish and Turkish music scene singing songs dealing with women’s and Kurdish culture rights in Turkey. She sings mostly in Kurdish, but also has Armenian and Turkish songs. Her voice is undeniably beautiful and soulful.

Her new 2010 album is called Rewend (Nomad in Kurdish) and the lead song of the same name is devoted to Heskîf (Hasankeyf in Turkish), an ancient Kurdish town that has been at threat of being submerged under water ever since the Turkish government started building dams in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. The Ilisu Dam project has attracted a lot of attention over the years with human rights organisations successfully lobbying international credit firms to deny the money needed by the Turkish government to build the dam. But the ever so persistent Turkish state, despite all the protests, is determined to build the Ilisu dam; so the campaign to stop it is ongoing and Aynur’s album is part of the protests.

The next artist, Roozbeh, came onto the Kurdish music scene in fall last year with his debut song Koch (Exodus). He later released an album of the same name in spring 2010 and quickly attracted a strong following, especially among the young, fusing a Kurdish singing style, typical from his home region of Hewraman, with a variety of modern music forms from the West. There is also a Persian pop influence in some of his songs. The album is made up of love and dance songs. No politics in this one.

Two singers that have been kicking up a lot of controversy in Kurdish society, especially in Iraqi Kurdistan, are Dashne Murad and Loka Zahir. These two divas both grew up in Europe and brought back to Kurdistan particular music styles that challenge many traditional customs in society. They both have attracted disapproval and admiration from different parts of society.

Dashne’s songs are quite in your face by Kurdish standards. She’s gained a lot of media attention outside Kurdistan, internationally as well as in the wider Middle East. Her songs about kissing, flirting and dating, and her clothing style, are considered vulgar to some, but liberating to others. Many, including herself, consider Dashne to be the Kurdish answer to Shakira.

And if Dashne is the Shakira of Kurdistan then Loka is its Nancy Ajram. Loka’s stlye is heavily influenced by modern Arabic music, and with lyrics such as “don’t get your hands familiar with my chest” and “your hand is in mine, i’ve cleared the way for our chests to meet” (i guess she’s got a thing for hands and chests) she’s kicked up just as much fuss as Dashne. Unsurprisingly, they are good friends.

More in tune with the conscientious style of Aynur is Serhado, who can be considered the first person to establish a distinclty Kurdish style of hip-hop/rap. Serhado, like Aynur, concentrates on themes of society, politics, Kurdish rights, and is overtly patriotic for the Kurdish cause.

The clip that I’ve posted,Ez Kurdistanim (I am Kurdistan), from Serhado’s 2009 album Xeyala Evîn (Love’s Imagination), is actually a remix of a song by a PKK guerrilla, Hozan Serhad, who was killed fighting the Turkish military. Serhado raps about different cities and Kurdish historical/heroic figures that have struggled for Kurdish independence, and the chorus is in the style of Hozan Serhad’s original version. It is a particularly popular song among the young in Kurdistan of Turkey.

Azhdar/Ajdar Wahbi is an established Kurdish pop artist from Silêmanî (As Sulaymaniyah) who has released a number of well received albums over the years. He mostly sings mainstream love and dance songs typical of the modern Kurdish music scene in Iraqi Kurdistan, with subtle influences from Turkish and Arabic pop music. His latest album, Lem Bibure (Forgive me), was released late last year and the most popular track on the album is Dilî Min (My heart) which I’ve posted above. Azhdar also has his own TV show called ‘Azhdar Show’, typically styled after the ‘Ibo Show’ which is hosted in Turkey by another Kurdish singer/actor, but I’ll get into that in another article.

Now I’ve left the best till last with Ciwan Haco (pronounced Jwan Hajo), this singer/musician from Qamişlo (Qamishli), in Kurdistan of Syria, is something of an icon in Kurdish music. He’s been churning out popular albums since the 1980s and his music really transcends generations; his appeal among young Kurds is greater than among the old. He also has had a rare bit of fame within Turkish society despite singing only in Kurdish. Ciwan has probably also held the biggest concert of any Kurdish artist when in 2003 around 200,000 people went to see him perform in Êlih (Batman in Turkish. Yea seriously, the Turks actually call it Batman!).

Apart from songs of love and dance, Ciwan sings in a melancholic style, typical of most Kurdish artists, about famous Kurdish places and personalities and of times of glory in Kurdish history. My favourite of his songs is one of his most famous, Diyarbakir, dedicated to the largest Kurdish city in the Middle East, which is based in Kurdistan of Turkey, and is considered by Kurds to be the capital of Greater Kurdistan. Here he is singing it at the Êlih concert, check out the size of the crowd.

So there you have it, a brief introduction to Kurdish music. I’ll try to introduce more artists and also classical songs in future posts. And also, I’ve not written about some very famous singers that are considered legends among Kurds, but this is a good start for now.