Kurdish music is a central part of Kurdish culture. Traditionally, Kurdish folk songs are passed down orally, from generation to generation. Kurdish songs range from historical stories to epic tales, and from lyrical poems to literary works.
Types of Kurdish Music
There are several types of performers in Kurdish culture. Bards, or dengbêj, are the most common, and use their musical skills and exceptional memories to bring Kurdish songs from one village to another.
The most common musical instruments for dancing are the “def u zirne” (drum and oboe), similar to the tapan and zurna of Macedonia. In some regions, where for religious reasons musical instruments are considered improper, dancing is accompanied by singing, in which a “stranbêj” (traditional singer) calls out a verse, which in response is repeated by the other dancers, who then call out a new verse, which is repeated by the leader, and so on, back and forth.
A salient difference between Kurmanji and Sorani singing is the tendency for Kurmanji singers, when improvising, to try to cram as many words as possible into a musical phrase. Among the Soran, although this trait is also found in Erbil, it is totally absent from the Sorani singing style of Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk.
Kurdish Music in Iran
In Iran, the city of Kermanshah is widely recognized to be a cultural center for Kurdish music. Both Iranian and Turkish music can be traced back to Kurdish tribes and musical traditions from around the Kermanshah region, and there are many established and upcoming Kurdish musicians based in Kermanshah.
Kurdish Music in Iraq
In Iraq, the Kurdish Music and Heritage Establishment (KMHE) has been taking steps to archive and digitize records of Kurdish music. Based in Erbil, the centre’s library has accumulated over 45,000 musical archives since it started recording music in 2004.
Kurdish Music in Turkey
Kurdish music in Turkey has suffered from longtime censorship, and is still censored in many cities today. Kurdish songs have been banned from being broadcast on radio or television, and some Kurds have been arrested for even signing along to specific Kurdish songs.