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Author: Subject: Is there a Kurdish oud tradition?
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[*] posted on 12-16-2018 at 02:13 PM
Is there a Kurdish oud tradition?

I was in Kurdistan last year (Southern Kurdistan/Iraqi Kurdistan) and during my two weeks there I tried to experience as much Kurdish music as possible (by visiting music stores, cafes, watching music performances on TV, visiting a TV station broadcasting Kurdish music and culture programming, listening to friends of friends perform at private dinner parties). I have also interacted with some Kurdish musicians and been at various music performances here in Sweden.

During this time, I have not seen the oud being used to perform Kurdish music. So I am wondering if the oud has ever been part of the Kurdish music tradition or if it has been more so in the past and just fallen out of favor in modern times? Given that the oud is prevelant in Turkish, Arabic and Persian music, I would have assumed that it would have been common in the neighboring Kurdish areas as well.

On a few occaisions I have seen the oud used by Kurdish musicians on YouTube, but in all these cases it seemed to me that they were playing music that I would identity more as part of the Arabic (Iraqi) or Turkish tradition, and not specifically Kurdish. As far as I know Naseer Shamma himself is Kurdish, but I don't really associate his music with Kurdish music (please correct me if I'm wrong, perhaps there are Kurdish influences I am missing here?).

Maybe this is just due to my lack of knowledge of Kurdish music history or having a too narrow definition of what I think of as "Kurdish"? I guess most of the music I've been exposed to in Sweden and Kurdistan could be classified as folk music or modern popular music performed on traditional instruments. So perhaps there is a more "classical" tradition that I have yet to be exposed to?

I was thinking about the saz, for example. As far as I can tell, the saz has its own Kurdish tradition and style separate from the Turkish tradition. So I am wondeirng if there is something similar for the oud and in what ways does it differ from the Turkish/Arabic tradition?

Is it just a matter of different maqams being popular in the Kurdish regions? (For example, I'm guessing maqam Kurd is originally from this region?)
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John Erlich
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[*] posted on 12-16-2018 at 11:25 PM

I don't know about a specifically Kurdish oud tradition. (I actually had no idea that Naseer Shamma is of Kurdish ancestry; I always associated him with Arab Nationalist politics.) I know of Arasalan Kamkar, of the Iranian-Kurdish Kamkar family - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaZtDKDarDk I have some recordings of the Kamkars, but I never felt most of their recorded music was distinctively Kurdish, rather than generally Persian. Interesting question.
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[*] posted on 12-19-2018 at 12:40 PM

I can't respond directly to your question because I know very little of Kurdish music. I will ask friends who might know better and post it here later.

But, if you allow, I'll speculate a little. What fascinates me in oud music is the incredible mix of influences. For example, I study classical Tunisian repertoire but only a small part of it is really Tunisian. Songs, including those of "popular" Syrian, Turkish, Armenian or any other origin, are easily incorporated within the suites, provided that the maqam is right. Of course, there are certain variations of a particular maqam that are characteristic of one region or another, like the Rahat al-Arwah version of Sikah which is common in Tunisian mlf. But it doesn't mean that you can't find it elsewhere! Other than that, Arabo-Andalusian music is a particularly confused mix of European, Jewish and Berber influences.

Now, with regards to the Kurdish tradition, it might be interesting to consider the fact that codified classical music all over the world has essentially been developped in royal courts. Modern Arabic classical music would not exist if there were no great surge of Panarabism in the 30s (see the Cairo Congress of Arabic music in 1932). Since there has been no Kurdish state since at least nine centuries, it must have contributed to the trouble defining what would be codified Kurdish classical music. This, however, does not mean that there is no Kurdish folk tradition that bears influence on other existing forms of classical music. That is the case, it seems to me, of Persian classical music and to some extent of Turkish classical music (less admitted for political reasons).

Those who know better are very welcome to correct me.
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[*] posted on 12-19-2018 at 09:24 PM

The following is more my personal speculation and opinion based on the Kurdish music I know from Turkey and Iran.

I personally have observed the same thing in that the Oud does not appear strongly in Iranian cultures. I'm including Kurdish people in the pan-Iranian sense which includes Iranic-speaking people in Afghanistan, Baloochistan and Tajikistan.

It fits my personal opinion that the Oud doesn't suit Iranian style musics anymore.

In the past the Oud wasn't taken seriously as an instrument of study in Iran. If you listen to Persian ensembles, the Oud is practically useless. It doesn't add much to the ensemble. Performing with Tar and Kamanche is endlessly frustrating. (But I exaggerate and I'm too dramatic). Part of this is due to the fact that Persians don't know how to use the Oud in ensemble work especially in terms of amplifying the Oud. It's completely drowned out.

The spirit and vibe of Kurdish music is more similar to other Iranian musics. The primary instrument of the Kurds is the Tanboor and Kamanche. The Turkish-influenced-sphere of Kurds use Baglama Saz and call it Tanboor. Then there is the Persian 3 string Tanboor of the Iran-influenced sphere of Kurds.

Learning Oud with Hossein Behroozinia I experienced these challenges and still struggle with them as a Persian musician. But it forced me to explore Arabic and Turkish much as a result.

In the end, I think it just comes down to the fact that the Oud doesn't suit Kurdish music strongly.

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[*] posted on 12-21-2018 at 10:08 AM

Just googling 'Kurdish Oud' leads to several results, and some beautiful music!

I agree with Navid that the tanbur fills the role the oud would. This touches on a bigger topic of the "size" of a single culture and its influences. Kurdish music is very similar to Persian music, in fact if it wasn't labeled as such i would have assumed this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWJsQMq7ypQ was simply Persian music, with Tar and Tombak like in the Iranian classical tradition. Maybe you could liken it to Armenian in that its a very specific and small community that has struggled to maintain an identity among bigger cultures (Turkish/Persian/etc). Maybe it's an effort to remain distinct? Maybe playing the oud is like using loanwords from other languages. Other Iranic people don't play the oud at all like in central and south asia (Tajik, Baloch, etc) so the instrument almost has a geographic range like an animals habitat.

Harsh words coming from Navid too! The oud is useless in an ensemble?! I agree its seldom as loud as i'd like, but thats just because it doesn't have the same piercing sharp high pitched tones as the tar, ney, setar, santoor, and kemanche due to its nylon strings but it always makes a perfect addition to the ensemble. I love the softness and mellowness the oud offers in an ensemble. Yes it should usually be louder. The oud is a family member the way i see it and any persian group without an oud is missing a crucial ingredient. Listen to the Hafezi orchestra or the Nava Ensemble for a Persian group that uses oud that has a nice crisp and audible sound! Your Ostads work with the Dastan ensemble was great, his barbat was a necessary part of that sound. Same with Shams ensemble https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aXAqJLlwKc and Mezrab ensemble https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIjPiWbqVvY the oud blends nicely with the tar and other instruments, then theres Yad-e Doust ensemble which only has oud, no other plucked lutes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK_lR1STxDw
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[*] posted on 2-14-2019 at 12:51 PM

I can't speak on the history, but there is a bit of a Kurdish oud tradition from what I've seen online. If you look up Reza Hariri on instagram, he is an Iranian-Kurdish oud player and luthier. Quite interesting the way he plays and uses the oud. It's an interesting hybrid between the Persian style and the Iraqi style (in my opinion). It strangely fits the music quite well...

At least beyond iraq, there definitely is a general Kurdish oud/cumbus tradition though. Even if it may not be very old, we have people like Aram Tigran who are well known for their cumbus playing.
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