Explaining Kurdish Songs: Naser Rezazî’s “Newroz”

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Around 400 million people are celebrating New Year’s Eve right now. Yes, right now. Mardin Baban knows why.

Happy new year! Or ‘Newroztan Pîroz’ in Kurdish. You might think it is a bit odd that I wish you a Happy New Year in the middle of March, but it’s not. I’m going to tell you why I do.

Newroz is celebrated by around 400 million people around the world today, and the name means “A new day”. It refers to the celebration of the Kurdish, Iranian and Afghan New Year. The reason why it is celebrated today is due to it being linked to the Northward equinox, i.e. when the sun crosses the celestial equator and heading northward, or in other more common terms, when the day becomes as long as the night. It is a celebration of light, welcoming spring and celebrating the end of winter. Fire has a central role in the celebrations, descending from the pre-Islamic religion of Zoroastrianism, where fire was worshipped. People gather around a big fire, dancing around it, giving the fire all the sorrow and grief that has been collected over the year, and also receiving its strength and warmth back.

Back to the roots

There is a lot to be told about Newroz, why and how it is celebrated. I’d like to do that by sharing one of my favorite Kurdish songs – a song that is played on this day that has a special place in most Kurds’ hearts.

Before doing that though, I’m going to share a bit about the Kurdish mythology surrounding the celebrations. I would also like to stress that the reason why I haven’t included Persian or other nations mythology surrounding this day is due to limitation of space.  Newroz has poetic and historical roots in Kurdish mythology. The mythological story has played an important part in shaping the Kurdish relation to Newroz.

Written in a Kurdish opus by Sharaf Khan Bidlisî in 1597, the story entails one central figure, namely “Kawa the blacksmith”. Kawa was an ordinary hard-working man living in ancient Iran (Persia) that later became a revolutionary legend tired of the tyrant Zahak’s oppression. Zahak ruled ancient Iran with great evil for a thousand years – with serpents growing from his shoulders needing be fed by the brains of two sacrificed males each and every day. Kawa, having lost six of his sons to Zahak, became the natural leader of an uprising that finally put an end to the evil rule of Zahak. It is said that Kawa and the rebellions were ancestors to the Kurds today, thus giving Kawa a special place among Kurds for being the first rebellion to fight for Kurdish freedom. This is, of course, mainly if not all together fictional. However, it has shaped the romantic portrayal of Kurdish nationalism that still plays an important part in Kurdish folklore.

A melody of tradition

The songs which lyrics you can read below are a translation from Kurdish to English. The lyrics of the song were written by one of the most famous Kurdish poets of all times, Pîremêrd, in 1948. This version of the song is performed by a living legend among Kurds, Naser Rezazî, although the most known version of the song is performed by another, unfortunately not living, legend, Hassan Zîrek.  I chose to show you this video because it visualizes how Kurds traditionally celebrate Newroz.

The New Year’s day is today. Newroz is back.
An ancient Kurdish festival, with joy and verdure.
For many years, the flower of our hopes was downtrodden
The fresh rose of spring was the blood of the youth.
It was that red colour on the high horizon of Kurd
Which was carrying the happy tidings of dawn to remote and near nations.
It was Newroz which imbued the hearts with such a fire
That made the youth receive death with devoted love
Hooray! The sun is shining from the high mountains of homeland.
It is the blood of our martyrs which the horizon reflects.
It has never happened in the history of any nation
To have the breasts of girls as shields against bullets
Nay. It is not worth crying and mourning for the martyrs of homeland
They die not. They live on in the heart of the nation.

– Pîremêrd 1948

A political message

As you see, the lyrics have quite a strong political undertone. The reason for this is clear. Newroz, although it is mainly a cultural occasion, shared among many different nations, is without a doubt a celebration with political and nationalistic undertones within the Kurdish context. Even the mythological part of the celebrations are in the Kurdish context very much formulated in order to capture and evoke nationalistic feelings, feelings that shall be directed towards fighting any oppression of the Kurdish nation. Due to the oppression and division of the Kurdish nation after World War 1, Newroz has become the day where Kurds from all four parts of Kurdistan unite to express their unity and wish for freedom.

The lyrics are a tribute to not only the Kurdish nature, but above all a tribute to the young men and women that have sacrificed their lives in order to bring about a Kurdish spring. The metaphorical elements are right there, Newroz being the day where spring pushes away the cold grip of winter in the same way that Kurds shall push away those who have oppressed them. It is a song about the hope to see something new, a brighter tomorrow; leaving the hardships and grief behind in order to witness a Kurdish nation arise.

If one takes a brief look at Kurdish history and the present situation of millions of Kurds, one will hopefully be sympathetic towards why the message of Newroz, as portrayed in this song, has such political undertones.

Btw,

Don’t miss to read about the Newroz celebrations in the city of Amêd (or Diyarbakir) tomorrow in Northern Kurdistan (Turkey). Millions of people will gather around together and celebrate Newroz, a tradition that was strictly forbidden in Turkey just a couple of years ago.

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Did you find this interesting? Hêja explained another Kurdish song: Omer Dizeyî’s “Xewn le xewda”.

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Explaining Kurdish Songs: Omer Dizeyî’s ”Xewn le Xewda”

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Hêja is 28 years old and is based in Sweden. He listens to Kurdish songs and agreed to translate and analyze his current favorite song for me and for you. This is particularly interesting as he has a very symbolical mind and I believe you will enjoy reading music from the lens of a political scientist as much as I did.

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The first song he chose, “Xewn Le Xewda“, is sung by Omer Dizeyî, an eminent Kurdish singer.

Dwênê shew bînîm le xewê
leser cêy ber mange shewê
xom xizande leser cêy fênik
nemhêsht ber henasem bikewê

Kijî xawî, be lêdawî alozawî
car car daydeposht le chawî
xwaye gîyan chendîm xosh dawê

Zor be aspayî û be nermî
demim bird bo lêwî germî
chawï helhênaw pêy gutim
xawnîm adît eto hawsarmî

Nêyhêsht hestim, girtî destim
lêwi gastim bo chirkêkî xoshî daygirt
sertapay hena û hestim

Wêk rata mella bang dananê
têk aran û dest le millanê
le nakaw dengî mella hat
daybirîm le bejnî cûwanê

Be ser samî, be nakamî bêaramî
bêcêmhêsht beheshtî xewnim
chawim pir bû le giryanê

Kurdish music has a special place in my heart. Ever since I was a small boy, I have colorful memories of melodies and voices, like memories of certain smells they are closely linked to how I remember my childhood. In recent years I have also started to listen to what’s actually said in the songs that I grew up with. Within Kurdish music, there are two categories of lyrics that are by far over represented. The lyrics are either about the misfortunes of the Kurdish people or all energy is put into celebrating the female anatomy.

I have chosen to write about a song that has a special place in my heart, a song that describes the sensual relationship between a man and woman whose tenderness and love is disturbed abruptly by the megaphone of religion. As I wrote above, there is a well-stocked library of poetry where men are celebrating the female physic by similes and metaphors to describe the beauty, often by referring to the Kurdish nature and also fruits over every kind. Traditional Kurdish music rarely describes the sensual relationships between the two sexes in an equal way. Rarely one can enjoy sexuality and sensuality being formulated from a woman’s perspective.

The song that I have chosen to write about is by Omer Dizeyî, a controversial singer among Kurds due to his lustful texts where nothing is saved to describe intimate descriptions. This song is no exception when it comes to being filled with lust, but it offers two dimensions that are rarely heard within Kurdish music. The song is both gender equal in its description of the sensual relationship being displayed as well as offering a razor-sharp critic towards religion.

The song starts with the male character in the song crawling into bed and laying down next to the woman of his life. The man sees his love whose body is illuminated by the infiltration of moonlight, he sees her hair hiding her face and his heart gets filled with love. The song continues with the man moving his lips towards her warm lips. Just before their lips met the woman makes her first entrance as an active character in the song, she opens her eyes and says that she was with the man in her dreams a moment ago. The woman suddenly takes yet another initiative; she grabs hold of his hand and bites his lip. The song has by now suddenly included a very interesting feature, a feature where the woman is described as the initiator and the dominant part of the intimacy. The song abruptly changes character after that. We are told that the play between the two characters is a scene from the man’s dream. A dream he is brought out of by the loud voice of a muezzin from the mosque. The muezzin’s voice awakens the man from his dream and sets him apart from the intimacy that only a few moments ago filled his heart with joy. The song ends with the man being filled with sadness, his eyes get filled with tears, once again the muezzin’s voice penetrated into the most private parts of life, right into the bed chamber.

In order to find the song interesting and special, one has to get an insight into the actual context that the song is a part of. I cannot give a complete and full description of the Kurdish community in a few lines, but I can try to briefly give some insight into the skewed gender power structure that affects the relationship between the two sexes. Kurdistan and the Kurdish culture are heavily influenced by a profound gender inequality, an inequality that is based on a vision that the honor of the man is linked to the female womb. Women’s sexuality is taboo, it is not owned by the woman herself but is supposed to be protected by the man. This relationship is wreaking a tremendous mess, every year thousands of women are killed by related men trying to obtain some sort of family honor. The patriarchal culture is maintained by the religious institutions by using the words of God to entitle the prevailing gender power relations.

Although the description above is flawed and leaves much unsaid, it is however, a description of reality no liberal eyes can ignore. Within the context described above, the formulation of a fierce criticism of religious intrusion into human beings most sacred moments as well as describing women as sexual initiators is nothing less than a social critique that should be applauded.

The Kurdish nation is understandably very busy freeing themselves from oppression. The political and the cultural offerings have been strongly marked by the eagerness of national liberation. The nationalist songs that sounds in every Kurdish home fires up a nationalistic flame that Kurds eagerly give oxygen to, however, what we often forget in all the nationalistic frenzy is that the desire for an independent and liberated Kurdistan should be beneficial to all Kurds, men and women. One of my fears is that only half of the Kurdish population will benefit liberation, where half the population is forgotten and actually oppressed by the other half. Songs like the one above gives us a reminder that it is equally important that we also free the other half from both religion and patriarchal oppression.

For me, Kurdish songs like this have a very special place in my heart.

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The featured image shows a painting by Kurdish artist Bayad Abdullah.

Did you find this interesing? Hêja explained another Kurdish song: Naser Rezazi’s “Newroz”.