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Kurdish Music

by Christian Poche

PART I

Kurdish music belongs to the same family as Persian music, but its main characteristic, as in Indian music, is the exploration of the octave. the basic structure is a model development of which the elements are elaborated and organized by improvisation is such a way as always to result in a melodic rhythmic conclusion. In the musical construction the improvisation at the outset is balanced by means of a measured concluding part. Kurdish music is neither learned music nor folk music, but all in one. Like Persian music, it is passionate, sensuous music, very often tinged with a profound melancholy. Although close to each other, these two words are very different and cannot be confused when heard, Persian music being more refined and that of the Kurds being more instinctive and more impulsive.

At first sight, the way Kurdish musician considers his art may appear disconcerting to a westerner, for there exists no terminology indispensable in defining the phenomenon of sound. There are no precise terms relating to the art of making music; the rules, the forms, the musical scales are in Kurdish language all associated with concrete phenomena. the basic notation are expressed by simple terms taken from daily life and generalized. In Kurdish the word "music" is conveyed by term "saz", a word of Persian origin which signifies both music and any musical instrument or a particular musical instrument. Another term employed in the same way is "tanbur", which likewise designates music and particular stringed instrument. This term has long been the subject of a sharp controversy: is origin of long-necked lute found in India and attested in ninth-century Poland by Arabic writers to be sought in Sanskrit and does it mean the instrument which gives the "tone"? Does it come from Sumer, as some authorities maintain? Or is it a legacy of the Scytho-Sarmatians and thus of the Caucasian civiliz ation?

When Kurdish musician talks about music he never refers to concept with which we are familiar on account of the formal or expressive connotations. To convey the idea of improvisation he uses a term which means "work", in the sense of "working" an instrument. A musician gifted with great inspiration is spoken of as one who knows what he has to do, a difficulty in execution is interpreted in terms of a mountain that has to be crossed. The construction of musical form can be presented as the healing of a wound, an idea that reminds one of the thesis put forward by Rymond Ruyter in his book "La genése des formes vivantes". To denote a particular mode of maqam -the Kurds say maqãmé- also called maghmä, proper names, often women's names, and names of religions and tribes are used. "Dersem", for instance, which is a Kurdish dance, takes its name from a region in Anatolia, an d "Sheikhane", another well-known dance, comes from the region of Djebel Sindjiar in northern Iraq. When a magam is designated by a girl's name, for example magämé Mariamé, it is understood that the remembrance of the young Mariamé has given rise to a particular melodic motif to which a modal ethos is applied. It could thus be inferred that Kurdish music, like Indian or Arabian music, utilizes an infinite numbers of modes (raga or magam). But this is not so. In fact, the musical art of the Kurds is based solely on the use of one single mode, and this bears witness to the antiquity of the culture which has developed its tradition by preserving a single scale, which the neighboring people call "kord" or Kurd (its characteristic being a minor second followed by a major second) and is none other than the Dorian mode employed by the Flamenco musicians of Spain. Are the Ku rds aware of this scale? In terms of music itself there is no doubt that they are, for if the musician deviates from the degrees prescribed for the mode and determined by the fourteen frets on the tanbura, they will notice immediately that this represent a departure from their tradition. But they have never called this scale Kord. On the contrary, they have always associated it with the spirit of an ethos. To say that a Kurd is improvising the magämé Kord in the same way that one would say that a Persian is developing Shur or that an Indian is unfolding Bhairavi, is a nonsense. One would have to be more precise and say the magämé Abdalé or magämé Mariamé, because it is the structure of the Abdalé or Mariamé song which displays the Kord scale.

From: UNESCO Collection

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