Kurdish Music, the Most Ancient Heritage of Iranian Music

Iran, Daily Newspaper,
Vol. 7, No. 2024, Jun. 14th, 2002
page 10
Author : Ali Akbar Moradi

The most important centers of Kurdish music include Kermanshah known for playing lute, Houraman, Houreh and Mourtaki as well as the gnostic music known as Neflieh Qaderi and Naqshbandi (mystic music) and the music played in Marivan and Salavatabad villages. Surani and Kermanji styles played in northern and northwestern Kurdestan may also be mentioned. The Kurdish music is surveyed by Ali Akbar Moradi in the following article.

One might dare to claim that there are few tribes similar to Kurds so familiar with vocal arts. Music is a constant and loyal companion of the Kurds, which accompanies them upon their birth or even earlier and stays with them until their final departure from the world. The whispers of a Kurdish mother are heard simultaneous with the creation of fetus in her womb and the Kurdish lullabies murmured over the cradle and the wailing over the grave are likely to constitute parts of the symphony of humanity and creation, which is being played throughout one's lifetime. The Kurds open their eyes to life with the sound of music and pass away with the same tunes. They wake up and go to sleep with music. They pray and make contact with music. Moreover, music accompanies them while working, expressing their love and affection, fighting and thinking. The Kurds cast away their woes and rebellions over the cruel mountiantops through chanting special songs known as Mour, Houdeh and Siyah Chamaneh along with the cold snow breeze.

The Kurds scarcely ever confine their mysteries, grudges or grievances in their hearts, they rather bring them to light with the sound of music. Thus the Curdles music might bear the message of malice or benevolence. Meanwhile, the outcry of the Curdles tribes grievances might account for voicing inexpressible mysteries, namely the relevant matters which should never be talked about, otherwise they might end up losing their heads for it.

The Curdles music includes festive, lyrical, epic and heroic types as well as gnostic and mystic music touching one's heart.

In fact, a pathway as long as one's lifetime lies before every human being who has originally sprung from the earth. In order to continue one's life and to approach the Beloved one (the Lord Almighty), man has to pass the cumbersome pathway and leave behind the seven obstacles by venturing to play lute and sing in order to remove the first obstacle lying on the way. The art of playing lute and chanting would enable one to distinguish between the safe magic and the charming, drinking mistress, and similar to Iran's epic hero Rustam (according to Ferdowsi's Book of Kings) remove darkness and cast light over the whole world by killing the white demon, which actually contributes to casting light on their own hearts. The Kurdish music is characterized by all the stated features.

A) Festive and Lyrical Music

Dance music is often played by various instruments including oboe, kettledrum and a traditional instrument called Dozelleh while at times tambourine and drum are also added.

The Kurds start dancing jovially to the tunes such as Geryan (crying), Seh-Pa or Seh-Jar, Khan Amiri, Chapi and Fattah Pashai while holding one another's hands.

Besides dance music, thousands of love melodies and songs are common throughout the province each of which has its own special charm.

B) Lyrical and Epic Music

This type of Music is classified into the dual pre-battle and post-battle sections. The first section comprising "Mour", "Tah Raz-e Rustam", "Gharibi" and "Saroukhani" strengthens the morale for belligerency and the melodies titled "Savar Savar" and "Jangeh Raa" are played in the course of battle.

C) Gnostic and Mystic Music

This type of music is classified into two major sections of "Yarsan lute and tunes along with spoken words" and the music played at dervish houses (monasteries) of various Kurdish Sufi cults, specially Qaderieh and Naqshbandieh. In the first section, the lute is the dominant instrument conveying the message of heart, while in the second section the outcry of love is voiced by tambourine. Besides, another type of Kurdish music is characterized by marking various occasions, including a melody known as "Sahari" for waking up, "Cheh Mari" and "Fani Fani" to mark mourning as well as Jelow Shahi and "Bayad Bayad" played at welcome ceremonies. Meanwhile, passion and mourning music which are commonly played during the month of Moharram marking the mourning of Muslims on the occasion of the martyrs of Islam should also be referred to as well as the tunes played during the process of cattle milking and extracting dairy products from milk, local games, lullabies and Mour (sad hymns marking mourning).

A) Kermanshah

Three types of the most original and ancient music known in the whole world is played in Kermanshah:

1) The music played by lute
2) Houraman (Siyah Chamaneh)
3) Houreh and Mour Laki

Of course, I believe that the music played by tambourine also originates from Houraman, since lute and specially the words accompanying it are quite analogous to Siyah Chamaneh. Meanwhile, the songs known as "Houreh", "Mour" and "Souz" are also quite common in Kermanshah area which are partially linked with the tunes played by lute, such as "Paveh Mouri", "Gharibi", "Saroukhani" and "Gol-o-Darreh".

I personally don't agree with categorizing the tunes played by lute, since there is always an origin to be discovered. The musical style used by lute players should not be taken for classification by mistake. In addition to the music played by lute, Siyah Chamaneh, Mour and Houreh; thousands of charming Kurdish melodies such as "Kalbai", "Gouran", "Javan-Roud", "Baba-Jani", "Kolhar" and "Houraman" are common at various areas of Kurdestan province, which are easily distinguished by those who are familiar with Kurdish music.

B) Kurdestan province music (including Sanandaj and other towns of the district)

The music played by the Qaderi and Naqshbandi dervishes is characterized by its particular features and the music of Marivan area is quite close to the Houraman music. It is unfortunate, however, that a distinct style of Kurdish music originating at Salavatabad village by the great Kurd master singer, Seyed Ali Asghar Kurdestani and that of another Kurd singer called Ataollah Seyed Mansour have long been neglected and no one has followed their style in recent years.

C) Music of northern and northwestern Kurdestan

This type of music belongs to the Sourani and Kermanji Kurds. Prominent singers such as Hassan Zirak, Mohammad Mamlai and Ali Mardan represent the 1st category, while the 2nd category includes Hassan and Mohammad Aref Jazravi. Qaleh Mareh the great player of Shamshale (a traditional wind instrument) who sings the Kurdish tunes such as Heiran and Larouk as well as other tunes with great skill in a gnostic and mystic style, also resides the area.

The music played by the Kurdish tribes in Iran is summed up as follows:

1) Lute, Kalam (words), Siyah Chamaneh and Houreh are characteristic to the Kurds from Gouran. Meanwhile, the Kurds from Kolhar are greatly in love with Houreh and have had great singers.
2) The music of dervishes, tambourine, and the beautiful Sourani songs and melodies belong to Sourani Kurds.
3) Kermanj and Badniani music are also other types of Kurdish music commonly played by the Kurds of northwestern Iran, Turkey and Syria.

Significant Point

The music played in various areas of Kurdestan is marked by commonalties which have appeared in the course of time, for example Houreh song might be found in the music played by lute or Siyah Chamaneh may be felt in the tunes of lute. Moreover, melodies uncharacteristic to dervish music might be encountered in the music played by dervishes, while traces of dervish music might be observed in popular and folk music as well. This may only be distinguished by those who themselves have been involved with Kurdish music for several years and are greatly in love with it. Thus I would like to propose to the authorities to make use of the expertise of the indigenous masters of music at music festivals to make judgments on local music, as they are quite familiar with their own music. Meanwhile, it is quite difficult for the musicians unfamiliar with a special type of local music to make judgments on it, even if they were highly educated in music.

Another point of significance is the risk threatening the wind instruments played in Kurdestan, among which besides Shamshale, which is a gnostic wind instrument, the remaining ones including oboe, Dozeleh and flute are played in festivities; and the majority of them earn their living through playing. Unfortunately, during the recent years, however, the introduction and playing of organ at the festivities of Kurdestan province has overshadowed the traditional instruments, the individual players of the Kurdish traditional wind instruments have somehow been threatened by the risk of unemployment; so that the descendants of local musicians nowadays prefer to play organ in order to earn their living instead of oboe, Dozeleh or flute!

I would like to propose to the government to take the necessary measures to give permission for establishing special music centers where traditional local music and dance would be taught, so that the youth would be provided with the opportunity to get involved in practicing music which helps them not only to build up their bodies but contributes their minds as well. Besides they will get the chance to be introduced to the musical background of our ancestors instead of watching and imitating western dances on satellites. It should be pointed out that the responsibility to protect and maintain our rich culture mostly lies on the shoulders of the administrators and authorities of cultural and artistic affairs.

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