New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: kurdish music

Plaintive Kurdish Sounds From Aynur in Her US Debut

In her American debut this past evening at the New School, Turkish-Kurdish singer Aynur channeled hundreds of years’ worth of brooding, often imploringly insistent ballads while adding unexpected elements of jazz and even a little rock, some of which worked, some of which didn’t. Throughout her almost two hours onstage, she ranged from a cool, unembellished mezzo-soprano delivery, to achingly shivery melismatics and several instances where she’d build crescendoing variations on a mantra of sorts. The material was heavy on singalongs that rose to triumphant, or almost vengefully swaying dances, which made sense considering that much of her repertoire focuses on the struggles of women in times of hardship and war as well as on a personal level.

Pairing her with the brilliant clarinetist Kinan Azmeh was a genius move. At first, he’d echo her with long, low, looming phrases. Then as the show gathered steam, the two indulged in some playful jousting, culminating in a jaunty duel where he pushed her further and further into some coy jazz scatting.

But the interludes that resonated with the audience the most and generated the most spontaneous response, sonically and otherwise, comprised the more traditional anthems. There, she was at her most forceful and intense, tanbur lute player Cemil Qocgiri supplying vast dynamics that ranged from elegantly plaintive opening taqsims, to hypnotically circling minor chords, some unexpectedly rocking, jangly riffs and serpentine leads in tandem with pianist Salman Gambarov.

When the piano was shimmery and lustrous, and at its most spare, Gambarov added useful ballast and overhead sheen. But it’s hard to play postbop jazz and remain in a single mode without straying, and since many of the songs in the set were essentially one-chord jams, the piano’s intimations of the blues and a little funk were far enough outside the songs’ harmonies to the point where they became jarring, both melodically and rhythmically. Obviously, this group’s raison d’etre is to rescue a repertoire that goes back centuries and put it in contemporary context, but the piano isn’t a traditional Kurdish instrument. A harmonium, or a microtonal accordion, would have made more sense.

This show was the inaugural concert of the World Music Institute’s new season: for decades, they’ve been counted on to delivery a vast variety of sounds from around the world rarely heard in the United States, let alone in this city. The next concert on the calendar is on Oct 13 at 8 PM at the Murmur Ballroom, the old synagogue on the way to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, featuring cameos from all 25 members of the global cast of the OneBeat collective currently on tour. General admission is $15.

A Rare, Must-See New York Concert and a Magical Album by Kurdish Tambour Lute Master Ali Akbar Moradi

Ali Akbar Moradi is one of the world’s foremost virtuosos of the Iranian tambour lute. Drawing on his heritage, his specialty is the Kurdish Sufi repertoire, although he’s also an esteemed composer and improviser. His latest album, Fire of Passion is streaming at youtube. The album title, in English anyway, is a bit of a misnomer: much of it is somber, spare, even otherworldly. Moradi will be airing out songs from it at an extremely rare American appearance with his son Kourosh on percussion on April 15 at 7 PM at Elebash Hall at CUNY, 365 5th Ave. just north of 34th St. Cover is $25 ($20 for students). Since Moradi – who made waves recently by mentoring and playing on star chanteuse Bahar Movahed‘s most recent album- is iconic in the Iranian diaspora, the expat contingent will be out in full force, so get there early if you want a seat.

Much of what Moradi plays dates from a time when music was communal and participatory rather than spectacle: Middle Eastern chamber music for the 99 percent, if you will. So it’s no surprise that the album opens with a mantra-like, insistently prayerful solo tambour intro and then picks up as Moradi spins rapidfire, tremolo-picked lines introducing Songs of Nostalgia, the album’s most epic number. Its slowly swaying gravitas and intensity imbue it with an orchestral majesty, notwithstanding that the instrumentation is just tambour and percussion. As it slowly rises, Moradi and his percussionist join together in acerbic flurries, Moradi’s impassioned vocals – he sings in both Farsi and Kurdish – coming in about halfway through. It’s closer to minor-key western music than to the microtones of the Arabic world. And it’s incredibly catchy: try not to hum this to yourself after you’ve heard it all the way through.

Another epic slowly rises to a tensely strolling rhythm punctuated by rapidfire strums and whirling circles of eerie chromatics that make it easy to forget that it’s essentially a one-chord jam. It’s bookended by a broodingly hesistant solo instrumental that picks up steam the second time around and segues into Intimate Dialogue, a conversational piece for tambour and frame drum lit up with Moradi’s lightning tremolo-picking: Dick Dale has nothing on this guy.

The Caravan works a similar dynamic, blending a slowly swaying pace and a persistent drive evocative of a desert journey, literal or figurative. Moradi then segues into a spare, broodingly spacious number and then raises the intensity with a long, spikily rhythmic interlude. The album winds up with the aptly titled Gallop, a lickety-split coda and the album’s most memorable number. If the hypnotic grooves and edgy modes of Iranian and Kurdish music are your thing, miss this concert at your peril.

And not to flog a dead horse, but if the United States goes to war with Iran, this is what the world loses.

Rare, Hauntingly Intense Kurdish Music from Bahar Movahed

You’ve heard the depressing stories before: Malian guitar genius moves to Philadelphia and becomes a cab driver; young Jamaican hitmaker moves to Maryland and ends up working on assembly line. That was Bob Marley. Persian-Kurdish singer/multi-instrumentalist Bahar Movahed’s story has a happier ending: she moved to Los Angeles, where she now practices dentistry. But she never gave up on the centuries-old Kurdish traditional music she’s pursued rigorously since her childhood in Teheran, a fascinating and often haunting repertoire that’s unfortunately little-known outside Iran. Happily, she’s teamed up with her mentor, tanbur lute virtuoso Ali Akbar Moradi, for a new album of rare classics and new versions of ancient songs titled Goblet of Eternal Light. She sings in Kurdish dialects: by any standard, her vocals are exquisite. Informed by Persian classical music, her style is restrained, minutely jeweled with understated, microtonal melismas that convey longing, angst, grief or passion, but from a distance, as she takes a phrase and lets it resonate with a gentle but resolute fullness as it trails out. The drama here, when there is drama, is typically conveyed by Moradi’s frenetic, insistently impactful tanbur riffage, or his vocals – he duets on several tracks and cuts loose a lot more than she does. A vestige of the 1979 counterrevolution, when the role of women in music – and much else in public life – was crushed? Perhaps – or simply because women have not traditionally sung this repertoire. Where Persian music often sounds like a blend of intricate Arabic improvisation with hypnotic Indian drones and rhythms, the Kurdish styles that Movahed mines are a lot closer to the Arabic side of the equation with their smoldering chromatics and emphatic percussion. These songs aren’t just haunting and intense: they’re extremely catchy!

Moradi’s role here is every bit as compelling: he alternates between fiery rhythm, plaintive lead lines, introspective variations on a theme, or crescendoing improvisational introductions that build from a smolder to a full-on blaze. Poetry is inseparable from music, and vice versa, throughout the Middle East, so the duo (plus an uncredited percussionist) pillage the centuries for a historically rich mix of lyrics. Like African-American spirituals, these songs are loaded with subtext, sometimes a revolutionary undercurrent. English translations are provided in the cd booklet: “The flood water of the interior has uprooted the soul and stolen the hoard of patience,” goes one particularly loaded line in the powerful opening anthem, written by Mowlavi E Kurd, who was considered the Kurdish counterpart to Rumi. For his part, Moravi begins with a Persian counterpart to the eerie Arabic hijaz mode and then moves to another which approximates the western major key but is a lot more interesting. They give a bitter, absolutely defeated lament by famous Kurdish freedom fighter and poet Mamoosta Guran a spacious atmosphere and an almost nonchalant sway, then add a mystical, riff-driven insistence to a death-obsessed lament by 19th century poet Mamoosta Mahwi. With unexpectedly wary vocals and a meandering melody, Mowlavi E Kurd’s Song of Waisy essentially tells the dervish that it’s time to get the party started: subtext, anybody?

Moravi’s new arrangement for a popular Sayyed Saleh Kermanshahi poem about lovesickness takes on a steely, stately, minor-key intensity, followed by another Mowlavi E Kurd lyric where Movaved finally lets loose a fullscale wail over Moravi’s dusky drone: “My beloved, I have been awaiting your visit while on my death bed, so I can pave your way through my dear life.” The album ends with its loudest and most musically interesting number, a surreally hypnotic love anthem that artfully and methodically shifts from apprehension, to dread, to triumph, yet ends unresolved. Released earlier this year by Traditional Crossroads, it’s one of the most hauntingly beautiful albums of the year in any style of music.