Kurdistan is a region of western Asia, stretching from the Taurus and the mountains of Armenia in the West of the Zagros Mountains in the East, the Caucasus to the North and the Mesopotamian Plain in the South. Throughout is history, Kurdistan has been characterized by great religious diversity. Since the 16th century, the Kurds converted to Islam, mostly Sunni, with a Shiite minority estimated at only 7% of the population. The two main Sufi brotherhoods in Kurdistan are the Qadiriyya and the Naqshbandiyya. Other heterodox communities include the Alevi, the Yezidi and the Ahl-e haqq ( Yarsan ). The two main dialects, Kurmanji and Sorani, both belong to the southwestern branch of the Iranian language group. The sung poetry uses many other dialects, however, such as Hewrami and Zaza, used respectively by the Ahl-haqq and the Alevi.
While Kurdish music has had popular appeal for some time in the West, there have been very few studies on Kurdish music. The distinct concept of music does not exist in Kurdish and it is generally translated by the terms saz or tanbur which designate two types of long-necked lutes used in western and central Asia. The music varies considerably according to the region (Turkey, Western Iran, Northern Iraq) but can be roughly divided into four categories : epic, narrative or poetic songs sung by bards who accompany themselves with lutes (Tanbur or Saz, or short-necked lute or ud) dance music, sung or played with an oboe (Zurna) and two –sided cylindrical drum (Dohol), festive songs (mostly wedding songs) and work songs, and religious music.There is no sharp distinction between classical and folk music as there is in the Arab, Persian and Turkish traditions.
Kurdish music is essentially modal. As in the Arab, Turkish and Persian traditions, the melodic structure is based on a system of modes called Maqam. Each Maqam is characterized by a specific scale of notes and expresses a particular sentiment. However, Kurds use the term Maqam in a rather different way. Kurdish music uses only one modal scale, for which they have no name but which their neighbors naturally call Kurd or Kurdi. The term Maqam is used to designate typical melodic motifs which are strictly categorized and associated with very distinct emotional states: Maqam-e sahari, Maqam-e sheikh-amiri, Maqam-e shushtari…
The Kurdish Maqam can be put into three categories:
• Kalam Maqam : said to be 2000 years old, with sweeping rhythms, used for prayer
• Maqam Majlesi : songs with no imposed rhythm used for long narratives : epics, tales of love, social problems, etc
• Maqam Majazi : with lively rhythms, to express earthly joys and the fires of love
It is probably within the Ahl-e Haqq community that the art of Kurdish Tanbur reached the peak of its development. Music is one of the main forms of religious devotion and the Tanbur plays a leading role as a sacred instrument.
The Ahl-e Haqq are a religious minority numbering about one million believers, most of whom live in Iran. Very small communities have been identified in Iraq and among the Turkmen. Their name can be translated as “people of the absolute”, or “adapts of the true”… While in everyday language haqq means truth (veracity) and justice, it is also one of the names of Allah.
The Ahl-e Haqq sect is considered heretical, sometimes dualist, sometimes licentious, by the Sunni and Shiite Ulemas. The accusation of licentiousness is due to the absence of sexual segregation in religious ceremonies. That of dualism is based on traces of Manicheism and the belief in multiple earthly manifestations of the divinity.
The adapts mostly live in rural areas, although many now live in the Kurdish suburbs of Tehran or in exile in Europe. Music is one of the main forms of religious devotion. Each family maintains this practice, with children becoming familiar with the ceremonial songs very early on. Although the quest for virtuosity and the composition of sophisticated Maqam is not ruled out, this practice does not generally lead to concert performing, its complex structure has barely been studied and usually, all that is said is that it is rooted is Kurdish popular culture.