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HomeTaoismSome Kurdish bards | Stephen Jones: a weblog

Some Kurdish bards | Stephen Jones: a weblog

dengbej old young 2

Storytelling is all the time an oral repository of a folks’s historical past and tradition—as, for example, within the Balkans (right here, underneath “Bards”), Ukraine, Central Asia, and China. Now I’ve been making an attempt to study a bit in regards to the dengbêj bards of Kurdistan.

There are majority Kurdish populations in areas of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, * all of whom have vexed relations with the related state authorities. Repressed in various levels of severity underneath completely different regimes, many have gone into exile. **

Kurdish mapMap, CIA 1992. Supply: wiki.

Among the many number of genres, right here I’ll concentrate on Kurdish dengbêj storytellers inside the borders of contemporary Turkey. In English, I sit up for studying

  • Ulaş Özdemir, Wendelmoet Hamelink, and Martin Greve (eds), Variety and speak to amongst singer-poet traditions in jap Anatolia (2018; contents right here), with its evocative cowl picture:

bards 1931Musicians in the course of the Pageant of Folks Poets in Sivas, 1931.


  • Wendelmoet Hamelink, The sung dwelling: narrative, morality, and the Kurdish nation (2014) (revised excerpt right here, on politics and tune texts).

Conventional settings included şevbihêrk night gatherings, city cafés, and weddings. For later generations the dengbêj got here to be related to poverty and dependency, working for a beğ or an ağa. Their broad repertoire includes epic tales of affection and warfare, recited solo, quick and loud; some distinct mournful songs (kilam, stran) could also be heard with instrumental accompaniment. Waves of battle and repression have impacted the dengbêj; and it quickly turns into obvious that change over the previous century has resulted in reification.

I used to be drawn to the bards by the keenness of standard singer Aynur for the nice dengbêj of yesteryear, equivalent to Dengbêj Şakiro (1936–96):

Biro 1936

Şeroyê Biro (proper), 1936. Supply.

Şeroyê Biro (c1881–1970) (this tune punctuated by a variant of the ever present drum-and-shawm combo):

Karapetê Xaço (d.2005; estimates of his birthdate vary from 1900 to 1908), an ethnic Armenian (for his story, see right here):

And extra not too long ago, right here’s the celebrated Seyîtxanê Boyaxçî (1933–2020), from Diyarbakir—with a younger singer:

Ladies dengbêj
Whereas that is formally a male custom, Marlene Schäfers thickens the plot by discovering feminine dengbêj (“From shameful to public voice: ladies dengbêjs, the work of ache, and Kurdish historical past”) (for some readings on ladies’s music, see right here).

dengbej Gazin

As in lots of conventional societies, ladies’s voices are heard

primarily in home, personal and all-female spheres to which outsider and/or male ears are not often admitted. The impression that Kurdish ladies lack voice is therefore a outcome much less of the particular absence of voice than of the way in which by which private and non-private areas are otherwise valued. The final devaluation of the personal (and feminine) sphere implies that voices whose vary is proscribed to the personal develop into thought of as insignificant. What counts, in our fashionable age, is public voice—exactly that which ladies have steadily been denied.

The ladies dengbêj are identified particularly for his or her kilam laments, expressions of ache and struggling, “carefully associated to epic songs (destan), funeral lamentations (şîn), and lullabies (lorî)”. Whereas the kilam could also be sung solo, additionally they match the mournful high quality of the qernête (duduk, balaban) double-reed pipe, as we have now already heard.

Famend feminine singers included Meryem Xan (1904–49) (wiki, and right here):

and Ayşe Şan (1938–96)—over two hours of singing right here:

Schäfers additionally cites a kilam by Dengbêj Gazîn (1959–2018) from Van, with a play of phrases on gazîn, which is each the singer’s stage identify and means “cry” or “shout”:

I’m Gazîn, I’m a dengbej,
I’m neither deaf, nor am I mad
My eyes are shedding tears
I inform the sorrows of my coronary heart

No person hears my voice
I inform the sorrows of my coronary heart
No person hears my voice.

I’m the heart-broken Gazîn
My insides are filled with blood
I’m like Xeçê, like Zîn
Within the face of the enemies of tyranny
There stays no place for me to go
Within the face of the enemies of tyranny
I flip in direction of the wrestle.

I’m Gazîn amidst the villagers
I’m a milkmaid on the pastures
I cry out like a crane
Within the face of the enemies of tyranny
I’ve develop into a captive within the mountains
Within the face of the enemies of tyranny
I flip towards the desert and the mountains.

She seems on YouTube, each on movie (others e.g. right here, right here, and by way of this put up):

and in lots of hauntingly plangent audio recordings, equivalent to:

Dengbêj Gazîn was sentenced to 1 yr in jail for singing Kurdish songs in 2010, deemed by the state prosecution to represent “propaganda for an unlawful organisation”, although she was acquitted in 2013.

in her chapter in Variety and speak to amongst singer-poet traditions in jap Anatolia, Schäfers cites Gazîn’s kilam as regards to the Van earthquake in 2011, making additional acute observations on the subject of the “possession” of orally-transmitted songs.

Right here‘s an in depth playlist for the dengbêj.

Clémence Scalbert-Yücel (“The invention of a practice: Diyarbakır’s dengbêj mission”, 2009), finds that for the reason that rise of the “nostalgia trade” within the Nineteen Nineties, dengbêj have been rediscovered, institutionalised, and “protected”. Furthermore,

The dengbêj “custom” because it exists at present is the results of a several-decades-long technique of negotiation between completely different Kurdish particular person and collective actors, between completely different components of Kurdish society, and between these Kurdish actors and representatives of the state. It exhibits that each the state and the Kurdist motion(s) have demonstrated contradictory attitudes towards dengbêj, starting from safety to disinterest and repression, and that the apply of the dengbêj in addition to the definition of the “custom” have been profoundly formed by this course of. […]

Though there is no such thing as a longer a ban, auto-censorship remains to be in power and the dengbêjs are represented as “harmless relics” who painting the Kurdish a part of the “Anatolian mosaic” promoted by official narratives within the 2000s.

The primary a part of the paper examines the survival of a sure approach of dengbêjîin regardless of repression by state establishments, wider social modifications, and a slightly disinterested Kurdish motion. The second part seems on the revival of the dengbêj apply and at a renewed curiosity amongst some Kurdish activists, trying particularly on the municipality-led mission.

Following the partitioning of Kurdish territory with the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, underneath the Turkish Republic the dengbêj have been topic to sporadic repression for the reason that Nineteen Thirties, most severely within the Eighties.

However dengbêjî was not solely repressed by the state. It was additionally impeded by a Kurdish inhabitants that was each nervous about persecution and had to some extent misplaced curiosity attributable to wider social modifications (urbanisation, the arrival of tv, and the event of latest, “fashionable”, musical types), and due to the attitudes of some inside the Kurdish motion.

Scalbert-Yücel notes the change of context to efficiency on the official Homes of Dengbêj, for festivals, and on TV.

First, the songs carried out at present are shorter. […] Firstly, lack of apply, generally for a few a long time, led to a lack of reminiscence and shortening of the songs. The second motive is immediately linked to the difficulty of the efficiency and the viewers. The up to date viewers doesn’t essentially recognize lengthy epic tales, nor do they all the time perceive them. That is mirrored in the way in which by which folks go to the Home: they arrive for a short while, sit within the room with the dengbêj, and hear for them for a couple of minutes. Additionally they usually document the songs with their cellphones, like they’d shoot a photograph memento. For the festivals and the tv, the lengthy epic songs are additionally largely shortened and minimize.

Abbreviation had an extended historical past relationship again to the early recording trade, to which the shorter kilams have been higher suited.

Financial and symbolic stakes additionally pushed folks towards using instrumentation: including devices makes the dengbêj simpler to hearken to, extra enticing, and probably extra well-known. This modified the type of the music. […]

Political and guerrilla songs are additionally censored by the associations or TV channels. Which means an essential a part of the repertoire stays “within the chest” of the dengbêj and should ultimately be forgotten. This may additionally halt the inventive course of and result in a fixation of the dengbêj up to now, or give new instructions to the inventive course of. Additionally, “previous” songs appear to be given extra worth than the brand new ones as representing the “custom”, the true “tradition”.

As studying from tapes grew to become widespread, the chain of transmission has been reworked.

Dengbêjs have develop into symbolic; they’ve develop into a heritage [mîras], as stated one of many music professionals interviewed, who in contrast them to swords in a museum: earlier than they have been used each day by everybody; now they stand on a shelf.

All this dietary supplements our record of flawed Intangible Cultural Heritage tasks all over the world; the Diyarbakır mission jogs my memory in some ways of the ICH programme in China, with the remoulding of the “feudal” and “backward” previous, and all of the ambivalence of “registration” (each “taking care of” and “controlling”: see Bards of Shaanbei, underneath “The reform period”).

In one other wonderful article, Marlene Schäfers (“Being sick of politics: the manufacturing of dengbej as Kurdish cultural heritage in up to date Turkey”, 2015) interrogates the latest building of dengbê as Kurdish “cultural heritage”.

Given a longstanding and engrained historical past of systematic and violent persecution, repression, denial, and assimilation of all issues Kurdish by the Turkish state, Kurdishness has successfully been rendered an inherently and inescapably political topic place in Turkey at present.

She seeks an understanding that

permits for a continuous slippage between cultural heritage understood as, on the one hand, marking the essence of the Kurdish nation and being subsequently of an inherently political nature and, alternatively, constituting a non- or pre-political realm of folkloric engagement with ethnic traditions.

And he or she notes Nathalie Heinich’s felicitous time period “the administration of authenticity”.

As critics of liberal multiculturalism have repeatedly seen, tolerance is prolonged solely on the situation that the article to be tolerated stays inside boundaries decided by the tolerant majority itself.

dengbej old young 1

The dengbêj of Van are briefly launched right here, with this movie:

Even these pushing for cultural preservation concede that the dengbêj is now a considerably nostalgic embodiment of Kurdish id. Films and pop music are extra influential than their laments, and the shape’s rural strongholds are declining as younger folks transfer to cities. Whereas performers have been as soon as honoured visitors at personal homes and weddings, they now sing primarily for tv, vacationers, and folkloristic recordings. Their tales are shorter lately, in lodging to each fashionable audiences and their very own dwindling skills.

For some very completely different expressive types, see Dervishes of Kurdistan and Zaza and Hawrami. See additionally Reviving tradition: the Yazidis, and Bektashi–Alevi rituals (1: Istanbul, 2: Anatolia).

* For background, word the bibliography by Chris Houston, Anthropology of Kurdistan (2017), and Robert Riegle, A short historical past of Kurdish music recordings in Turkey (2013); see additionally Christine Allison, “The shifting borders of battle, distinction, and oppression: Kurdish folklore revisited” (2016). For introductions to Kurdish music, see sections in The Tough Information to world music, the New Grove dictionary of music and musicians, and the Garland encyclopedia of world music. As elsewhere, the favored songs promoted within the media inevitably obtain extra media protection than musicking in rural life. However word some wonderful CDs from Kalan Mûzik, equivalent to Conventional music of Hakkari (2004).

** I consider the Tibetans, additionally stateless—their houses (inside the Individuals’s Republic of China) within the Tibetan Autonomous Area, Amdo, and Kham, in addition to Nepal, Ladakh, Bhutan, India, and the diaspora; for some Tibetan bards, click on right here and right here.


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