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Growing acceptance for music in Iraq

Picture: Hellgurd Ahmed

Playing together with a friend at our institute's annual festival

In my last entry, I talked about the problems in Iraq’s fine arts institutes. In the last decades in Kurdistan, I think people have come to a better understanding of art in general – and music specifically – but this is not true in every area of my country. Some families do not allow their girls to study music – or sometimes even their boys – because of religious beliefs or because they think it’s inappropriate to make music. You’ll find this view mostly among people who live in the countryside but also among people who have left their villages for small towns or cities or, finally, those with very conservative minds. I know a famous Kurdish musician who studied music for five years away from his hometown without letting his father know what he was studying there. It was only after he graduated that his father found out – otherwise he would have stopped his son’s studies.

When I started studying music, I was living in a place that people rejected music and musicians. Even some of my closest friends laughed at me and my hobby. But I always told myself that I was stronger than the things pushing me to change my path. What drove me crazy was that most of the people were listening to music and Kurdish songs over the TVs and Radios. I could never understand why even though they seemed to enjoy music, they would also make a point of rejecting it? It mostly came down to religion. I remember that Islamic TV stations were not using music for any of their programs – news excluded – but gradually they changed their stance, too.

That change helped make people think differently than in the past. On the other hand, views were very different in the big cities like Erbil, Sulaymaneyah and Duhok. These places have a long history of struggling and making sacrifices to resist social pressure.

Picture: Hellgurd Ahmed

My brother, Chia, the bass player

I was lucky that my family was different. Both of my parents are from a village near Iran’s border. My father had to leave school straight after finishing primary school due to political reasons and crisis. Instead of studying, he had to become a warrior. But he was still able to develop many talents like singing, painting, poetry, nice handwriting and playing a Kurdish musical instrument, the shimshal.

The luckier one in my family, though, is my little brother. He also applied to study music at a fine arts institute. He was very lazy when he was in secondary school, and finishing it was a huge chore for him. But when he started to study music, I found him very clever. He chose to play the double bass. But lots of ordinary people here don’t even know what his instrument is. Sometimes he has to answer lots of dumb questions: How can you like that sound? Would you use it as a boat? Why did you choose such an instrument? Is it a violin that got bigger in water?

But what is there to say? Some people have no idea…


May 30, 2012 | 12:25 pm