Sometimes, you have to feel lucky just to own certain records, in the sense they’ve had a life before you that you can only guess at. Kurdish records from the 78 rpm era are precisely that, for me. While listeners and collectors in the west might think this is really exploring the margins of recorded sound, I disagree. Globally, it’s no more on the margins than listening to or collecting Cajun recordings. Though Cajun music is obviously far more popularized here in the US, both are representative of a regional, vibrant culture, where only a finite amount of historic discs exist. In the case of Kurdish recordings, they are representative of the musical traditions of what is commonly called, for better or worse, a “stateless nation.”
Kurdish maqam is slightly different than other types of maqam, in the sense that the term “maqam” doesn’t refer to classical Middle Eastern modes, and instead refers to specific themes or pieces. Horn and Shepherd’s Bloomsbury Encyclopedia poetically referred to the music as “monophonic hymns” – apt, once you begin listening to the emotional and embellished delivery in today’s example. The vocal style portrayed here, accompanied by oud though can also be accompanied by tanbur, is simply riveting, and it’s one that seems to have changed very little.
Iraqi-Kurdish classical singer Hesen Cizrawî (transliterated on this disc as “Hassan Jazrawi,” but also found spelled in innumerable variations), was born in 1917 and died in 1983. Judging alone by the frequency of his name mentioned in books, his later recordings on websites, bootleg cassettes, and on YouTube, as well as the related comments therein, Cizrawî is without a doubt one of the most important Kurdish artists of the 2nd half of the 20th century. There was another singer with the same surname, Mihemed Arif Cizrawî, who was unrelated, but an important and well-known singer that recorded as early as the 1930s. Hesen seems, in a way, to have a more resounding voice to my untrained ears. Not necessarily more artistic or subtle, but certainly a bracing voice that will jolt you upright. Here, he is accompanied by Dawud Al-Kuwaiti on violin, and Saleh Al-Kuwaiti on oud.
Most texts don’t even address Kurdish recordings before 1970. Some, like the aforementioned encyclopedia, openly admit to having no clue. Well, we can put an end to that mystery here and now. The first documented recordings (so far) of Kurdish music were made in Turkey and issued by the Orfeon label sometime before 1920 – a grand total of 7 records. These would remain the only Kurdish recordings made in Turkey for decades, as there was a strict ban on the Kurdish language – just a sample of the difficulties Kurds experienced. Kurdish 78s made in Iraq or Iran, for example, would have to have been smuggled into Turkey for sale to Kurds through the black market.
It was a different story in Iraq and Iran. From the late 1920s through the late 1930s, small batches of Kurdish records did appear on Polyphon, Parlophon, Baidaphon, and even Sodwa, the short-lived 78 label based in Aleppo, Syria. In the late 1930s, a series of over 20 discs were made in Iraq and pressed by HMV in Pakistan, primarily featuring Meryem Xan, and the elder Cizrawî. After World War II, Columbia began a series of Kurdish discs also featuring the Cizrawîs, among many others. This was one of them – recorded February of 1948 in Baghdad. Further recordings were made by local labels, such as Chakmakchi Phon, and for more on those recordings, let me take you back in time…
Issue Number: GIA 26
Matrix Number: COF 93
Thank you to Bill Dean-Myatt, Ahmad AlSalhi, Amir Mansour’s work, and collector friends.