“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
~ Victor Hugo.

I had a long conversation with a friend yesterday. It was mostly about politics and “the situation” in Kurdistan in general, and the North in particular, with a few odds and ends thrown in, as conversations usually go. In the midst of it, however, I noticed that there was one recurring theme, that of music. Kurdish music, naturally.

It’s not unusual for Kurds to speak about music; on the contrary, it borders on obsession. It is derived from, and sustained by, Kurdish political aspirations; hence its ban for so many decades in the North. It is easy to say that Kurdish music has a strong political angle, but the reality goes much deeper than that, so that music becomes even more important for Kurds than food. Food is necessary to sustain the body, and in this respect, any food will do. But music feeds the heart and spirit of Kurds and, therefore, only Kurdish music can properly nourish the Kurdish spirit.

Listening to Helebçe, by Şivan Perwer, I can close my eyes and see the dun-colored Zagros Mountains rising up around the city. I see the school girls walking home from their morning classes. I see the mass graves, clothed in wildflowers and grass. I see the rutted, muddy roads and feel the sorrow and suffering that still haunts the place.

Kirîvê and Gulizer are anywhere from Riha to Qoser, Qamişlo to Nisêbîn to Cizîr. They are gently rolling green fields, guard towers, concertina wire, and no-man’s land.

Hewlêr, by Hozan Serhat, doesn’t remind me of Hewlêr; it reminds me of Hesenkeyf. It was on the road to Hesenkeyf, that a friend suddenly realized that the tape we brought with us had Hewlêr recorded about five times on one side, hence accounting for the thirty times we heard the song. Upon this discovery, he yanked the tape out of the dashboard, with some disgust, and declared that we were not going to listen to “Hewlêr, Hewlêr, Hewlêr” all the way to Hesenkeyf from Amed. But, the damage was already done. By repetition, Hewlêr settled in for the day, and now I associate it with red poppies, climbing through ruins, listening to a shepherd sing to us near a cliff, and dangling feet in the cool, clear Dicle, while drinking tea and eating homemade boregi.

On the other hand, Zekerîa’s Ha Gulê and Baw Baw remind me of Hewlêr in the springtime, of family picnics, of colorful dresses and dancing, of pêşmerge guarding the scene in their typical, relaxed Southern way. They are the fabulous, colorful fruitstand in Ainkawa, while Agir Ketiye Dilê Min is standing on a mountain near Barzan, at night, listening to the wind.

Gulek–the older version–by Ciwan Haco, is arrival in Amed, the walls, Wan cheese in the morning and kebabs late at night. Agirê Jiyan’s Dimeşin is riding through the city, sometimes much too fast, and identifying as many civilian-clothed intelligence types as one can. Diyar’s Lê Lê Dayê is the heartbreak of leaving Amed.

Even now, when I am not guarding myself closely enough, the music has the power to make its way deep into my subconscious. It will transport me, unaware, back to these places and to the people associated with them, and I will feel as though I am really there, as though I can feel the breeze on my face and hear the utter silence of the mountains. Then realty shatters the memory. The breeze is ordinary, silence is replaced by clamor, and I am left only with the sorrow of separation once again.


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