Kurdish musicians empowered through social media

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Just updating the blog after a long silence. This is an article from last year, published in the SETimes, that talks about how Internet-based platforms circumvent obstacles and allow a wider audience.

With little support available to aspiring musicians in Turkey, young Kurdish artists are turning to social media outlets such as Facebook and YouTube to spread their music.

Performing in front of a jam-packed crowd at The Mekan in Istanbul, 27-year-old Kurdish singer/songwriter Raperin — whose music blends traditional Kurdish music and poetry with contemporary influences — exemplifies the ways social media is help-ing young Kurdish musicians.

Few songs by young Kurdish artists have hit the Turkish mainstream. But social me-dia’s ability to transcend borders and connect people online means musicians like Raperin can make inroads without the backing of a bigger industry.

“I don’t know what the lyrics mean, but I prefer Raperin’s songs to those from Eu-rope,” said Utku Caybas, a Turkish student who heard about the songstress through friends.

“I memorise the lyrics and look up translations online or ask friends. Their [Kurds’] music is stronger because it was banned for years, and they were continually assimi-lated and repressed — that comes out in the emotions expressed through their music,” he told SES Türkiye.

The concert was in full swing when Murat Kocaslan, a young Kurdish businessman, used his iPad to record the songstress, as did many other front-row fans.

“I’m recording her because I’m going to share her performance on Facebook. I want to tell my friends that I’ve been to her concert, and that they should go in the future, too,” he said.

While securing air time on Turkish television programs and music channels is near impossible, musicians like Raperin also garner little support from Kurdish channels, which generally prefer traditional styles.

“Just think, if there was no Facebook or YouTube, we would have never heard of her,” commented third-time concert goer Mayla Cimen, who discovered Raperin by chance on Facebook, and now closely follows the songstress.

Raperin’s strong virtual presence has amassed a solid fan base, and despite only being professionally active for two years, she is already at work on her third album, “Ta-rumar,” with Kurdish musician Mirady.

For Raperin and her fans, the fact that Kurdish music was once heavily censored gives social media’s broad reach extra significance.

“In the past, it was forbidden to speak Kurdish or listen to Kurdish music,” Cimen said. “When our mothers and fathers wanted to play us Kurdish music, they’d dig up cassette tapes from under the ground in the garden and play the music in the still of night, then hide the tapes again once we’d finished.”

Audience members said Raperin’s performance brought back those memories, leaving them pleased that their language is now sung at concerts.

“We’re here to listen to our own language. This music develops our language,” Duygu Yilmaz said.

The ruling Justice and Development Party relaxed restrictions on Kurdish-language broadcasting early in its tenure. Kurdish content is readily available on TV, and Kurds now openly play their music all over the country.

But the impact of past bans persists. Despite composing and singing in Kurdish, Raperin — whose family was forced to migrate from Van province to Izmir in the 1990s — is still learning Kurdish.

“When I was a child, we would be called kiro,” Raperin said, referring to a pejorative term used to degrade villagers. “You couldn’t even say the word Kurd.”

“We couldn’t speak Kurdish at home because my family was afraid of speaking it. We learned Turkish first, then our mother tongue later. Kurdish became like English for me: a second language. That’s why Kurdish is so special and important for me,” she told SES Türkiye.

Kurds continue to face discrimination, Raperin said, adding that it would have been harder to play at The Mekan had the owner himself not been Kurdish.

“Music is universal, and as Kurds, we follow Turkish musicians and go to their con-certs. We want the same equality in return,” she told SES Türkiye.

“Culture and language are important part of one’s identity, and as a people that has been oppressed for so long, we want to express the Kurdish peoples’ sorrows, issues and feelings through our music and spread it around the world. We’d like some sup-port in this sense.”


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