Kurdish Musical Tradition is Revived with Dengbej Culture

Dengbej Musician

Via the Daily Sabah — As the peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurdish opposition party, the PKK, continues in southeastern Turkey, a revival of Kurdish culture is also underway. One example of the cultural rebirth is the renewed interest in folk songs performed by Kurdish musicians known as ‘dengbej’.

Dengbej refers to a musician who performs traditional Kurdish folk songs. The word ‘deng’ means voice and ‘bej’ means ‘to sing.’ Dengbej are best known for their “stran,” or song of mourning. Dengbejan (plural of dengbej) learn thousands of legends, stories and songs of mourning by heart and are a great source of literature, serving as a reference for oral Kurdish traditions.

Dengbej Tradition Stretches Back 5,000 Years

With a 5,000-year history in the Middle East, dengbejan express the region’s natural beauty, famed love stories and the sorrow for the death of loved ones through traditional songs, comprising a large portion of Kurdish folk literature.

Hilmi Akyol, an expert in the field, owns and operates the Dengbej House in Diyarbakir, which is home to 28 folk musicians, including one female dengbej. The Dengbej House hosts 70,000 visitors annually and is among the rising tourist attractions in Diyarbakır, attracting many international tourists and university researchers.

Akyol stresses the importance of descriptions and metaphors in the Kurdish songs of mourning. “A stran might describe the hair of a young girl in such a beautiful way, as if it was brought from the heavens. You may even be surprised when you hear how dengbejan embellish the words while telling about the girl’s earrings, attire, hairclip, shalwar [loose pants] and aba [a wool cloth],” he said.

Interestingly, musical instruments do not traditionally accompany Kurdish songs of mourning. Akyol said that some contemporary Kurdish musicians who perform strans with modern instruments randomly cut some parts, thus spoiling the song’s original style.

Akyol said dengbejan are not well-known in the Western world because Kurdish culture has been banned in Turkey for many years. In recent years, however, Turkish and Kurdish university students, as well as foreign researchers have shown an increasing interest in this field. Some of them have already conducted their dissertations on the dengbej profession, and some have come to the Dengbej House to record the music played by Akyol’s musicians.

[Read more at The Daily Sabah]


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