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Scott Anderson

Professor
MUSC 1040
Kurdish Music in the United States
Kurdistan is the largest country that has no defined boarders. Its
people encompass parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Over the last
couple decades, the United States has taken in thousands of refugees
from Kurdistan due to a feuding religious war. Because of that, small
social cohorts of Kurds have begun to take hold in the United States.
Fortunately, Utah has one of the larger factions of Kurdish people.
Seyran is a friend who has immigrated to the United States from
the Iranian side of Kurdistan. Her journey started back in November of
1994. Her dad was apart of the rebel army against what is now
known as Isis. When Isis found out about her father and found out
where he lived, they hired his cousin to assassinate him and his whole
family. Fortunately, his cousin was not heartless and warned Seyrans
father that Isis wanted him eradicated. Immediately Seyran and her
family liquidated all of their assets except a garbage bag of clothes and
their familys Persian rugs in preparation of moving out of Kurdistan.
In Iran, the physical country where Seyran was from, they were
not a part of the United Nations (UN) or the International Rescue
Committee (IRC). That means that getting any help out of the country
was near to impossible. Turkey, a part of the UN and of the IRC, was
their best bet on getting out of Kurdistan. So she and her family were
smuggled into Turkey with the aide of fellow Kurds. Once they were in

contact with the Turkish UN and IRC their case was expedited because
her fathers best friend, who was also a rebel soldier, was savagely
murdered only a week prior to their arrival. They had the option of
staying in Turkey a week longer, which would let them stay with family
that was in Western Europe or to come to America. At that point, she
immigrated to the United States.
Seyran and her family were the first Kurdish family to come to
Utah. There were other states such as Tennessee and New York, but the
threat that Isis had penetrated into one of those communities was too
high for the family. When she arrived in Utah she didnt speak any
English, so getting around town or going to get food were difficult
tasks. Nothing in Utah was like back home in Kurdistan, but they still
had their music.
After a little over ten years of being in this country, Seyran said,
Kurdish music has dramatically changed. People like 2Pac and NAME
are huge influences to a lot of Kurds. I dont know why, but Kurds love
2Pac Kurdish music globally has become more Americanized by the use
of more instrumentation throughout the songs giving it a more rounded
feel. They have people compared to Adele, Justin Bieber,
2Pac(Saber) Kurdish music here is like most other music in America
but sung in Kurdish and played with different instruments.
Kurdish music is an extension of their beliefs. Seyran stated that
[a] lot of the songs are about politics and the government. Back in

Kurdistan, those types of lyrics are banned, but songs that sing about
women in an explicit manor are normal to hear. She also explained
that in Iran, most of the popular music that will be allowed consists
mainly of instrumentals and vocables.
Kurdish people come from an Islamic religious background. Most
Kurds are now Sunni Muslims, and about one fifth are Shiite Muslims.
(Kurds) Both sects of the Muslim religion have the basis of beliefs that
come from the Koran. Kurds believe in a way of life that can be
conceived as more conservative than the norm in the United States.
With America being predominantly Protestant and Catholic, the Kurdish
people have had a difficult transition into their new world. But, one
thing that can traverse across lines is music. Kurds have a deep history
with music, generations of family members will come together to sing
and play songs that bring in the new year.
When talking about traditional Kurdish music the main form is
purely vocal. Instrumentation was added into songs but only in rare
occasions.
Kurdish music of long ago described the sadness of life,
but over time the music took on a more upbeat, joyous quality.
There are two forms of Kurdish music. The first is improvised
music, is known as maqam, but it is much faster than the
classical Iraqi maqam. The second form of Kurdish music is called
gourani. There are gouranis for different occasions. Children's

gouranis are based on children's poems and have very simple


rhythms. Women sing women's gouranis alone or in groups
during their everyday chores.(Fast)
American music and artists have heavily influenced newer Kurdish
music. Younger American-Kurdish artists have moved towards pop, rap,
and hip hop styles of music. Most of the popular styles of newer
Kurdish music relies heavily on instruments such as the tar (guitar),
zurna (flute), and taple (drum). Naturalized Kurdish-American music
has taken a hip-hop influence as well as rap. Traditional Kurdish music
talked a lot about the restrictive government and their policies, which
made an easy transition into rap/reggae. Songs about revolution and
the Kurdistan Workers Party are illegal (Kimmelman) and at one point
in time in Turkey, talking about the artist who wrote some of those
songs could be enough to send you to prison.
Artist such as Hasan Zirak can take you back to the traditional
form of Kurdish music, while others artist such as Helly Luv in her song
Revolution embrace all the aspects of American culture while
retaining the rebellious, anti-war message of the Kurds. In this song
she states, Long live to every nation, rise up cause were so much
stronger as one, breaking this silence is how it is done, brothers and
sisters we all come from one, different religions we share the same
blood, break free Helly Luv, in this song, sings in English and the
music video has messages in English as well. The message would

remain the same if it were in Kurdish, but due to all of the influence
from the United States, she chose to convey her message in English.
Helly entered her video in non-traditional, eye catching attire, but with
the naturalization of Kurds in America, traditional attire along with
many other traditions have gone out the window.
Kurdish music in America has come a long way from when lonely
vocals with minor instrumentation and vocables ruled, to a now
instrumental loving, flashy, Kurdish-American style. Hard times back in
Kurdistan forcing the immigration of their people into America has had
an everlasting effect toward the people and their music. The legal
freedom that America has given to Kurdish music has allowed it to
blossom into a growing industry in hip-hop, rap and pop.

Works Cited
Fast, April. "Music, Dance, And Theater." Iraq: The Culture (2005): 16.
Points of View

Reference Center. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.

Kimmelman, Michael. "For Kurds In Turkey, Autonomy In Music." The


New York

Times 2011: 1. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 22

Mar. 2016.
"Kurds." - Introduction, Location, Language, Folklore, Religion, Major
Holidays, Rites

of Passage. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.

Saber, Seyran. "Understanding Kurdish Music." Personal interview. 17


Mar. 2016.

"U.S. to Take at Least 10,000 More Syrian Refugees." CNN. Cable News
Network.

Web. 22 Mar. 2016.