Bringing it home from Kurdistan

Evocative singer Aynur Dogan closes this year’s Oud Festival.

Aynur Dogan 521 (photo credit: Lara Sayilgan, Fabrika)
Aynur Dogan 521
(photo credit: Lara Sayilgan, Fabrika)
Aynur Dogan is a straight shooter. The 36-year-old Turkish-born Kurd, who closes this year’s Oud Festival tomorrow evening (9 p.m.) with a concert at the Jerusalem Theater, has never been afraid to express the feelings and heritage of her ethnic group in the country of her birth. But it is for her plaintive vocals and recorded and live delivery for which she has become best known over the last decade.
During that time she has put out six albums, and even though she has endeavored to skirt around political minefields, controversy has reared its ugly head from time to time. Her second album, Keçe Kurdan (Kurdish Girl), released in 2004, was banned by a provincial court in the town of Diyarbakir in February 2005 on the grounds that the lyrics contained propaganda for an illegal organization. The court ruling said the album “incites women to take to the hills and promotes division.” The ban was lifted later that year.
Despite her apolitical stance, Dogan has become one of the symbols of the Kurds’ fight for independence.
The singer says she has accepted this.
“It is immaterial whether I feel that I represent the Kurds in Turkey or anywhere else in the world,” she declares. “It is a sense that is dictated to me.”
Dogan was born in a small mountain town in Tunceli Province in southeastern Turkey. Her family fled to Istanbul in 1992 during the conflict between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Music was a part of her life from the word go, and she studied music and singing at the ASM Music School in Istanbul.
“I was told that as a small child I sang every single song I heard,” she says. “In our [Kurdish] culture, music has a very important role.”
She made it to the stage for the first time when she was in junior high school but got serious about it when her family relocated to Istanbul, where she studied the baglama, a sort of thin-necked lute. Dogan sings in Turkish and Kurdish and brings the sounds of her childhood to her professional work.
“I listened to everything around me,” she recalls, “including Alawi music [of the Alawite religious ethnic group] and the music people played and sang in my local region.”
The singer says she has always been receptive to the sounds of other cultures and takes a spiritual approach to the music she hears.
“My sources of inspiration are, first and foremost, the positive energies that come back to me. Another large part of my inspiration are the sources of wealth of the culture in which I live. This is a culture that always conveys its wounds and bruises, its fears and scars, and is spiritually mature. Any story of life, with its pain and joy, as if you have experienced all the dynamics of this culture throughout history, every moment that you live makes you remember the past,” she says.
Even so, Dogan says she always keeps an ear open for contemporary sounds as well and brings more modern energies to the older source material she performs.
“The music I sing is mostly traditional Kurdish music and old standards. When I sing those songs, on the one hand I try to preserve the past, but I am also inevitably influenced by every tone and shade of music that I hear today, Western and Eastern alike. So much music is accessible these days, and that also impacts on what I do.”
Kurdish music is probably not the best known genre of music from the Middle East, certainly compared with Turkish, Persian and Arabic music, so it is interesting to hear Dogan’s take on the differences between the various musical ethnic categories.
“All these kinds of music are interrelated,” she explains, “although differences between them evolved based on the different customs and traditions and way of life. In spiritual terms, the music I perform feeds off the Kurdish Kizilbash base, which structurally is closer to Persian music.”
Kurdish music, she says, is a work in progress. “Kurdish music has undergone changes over time and has been impacted by the dominant [Turkish] culture.”
Although this will be Dogan’s first visit to Israel, she has had some encounters with fellow vocalists from this part of the world. “I know Yasmin Levy and Rita, and I have worked with them on projects before. I have also listened to a lot of Israeli musicians, and I like traditional Ladino music a lot.
Spiritually, my music and Ladino are not very different.”
That empathy will, presumably, come across at the Jerusalem Theater tomorrow evening when Dogan performs with her five-piece instrumental band.

For more information and tickets: (02) 624-5206 and