A Summer Afternoon Music Concert in Gulan

Yasin Aziz

By Yasin Aziz:

This is an extract from Yasin’s forthcoming novel, ‘A Few Days Life of Revolution in Halabja’

Sajid and his friends had to change from one area to another around Halabja according to what was happening.  So many times, they tried to avoid being caught up in a fight or being hit by stray bullets.  They went to the West side, where there was the valley of Gulan.  In summer, it was the most beautiful area of Halabja, until the ‘Mier Orchard’ was uprooted by the order of Brigadier Sadiq of the Battalion 20.

Sajid and his friends often went to the Gulan valley to spend some time, have fun in the orchards, to sing and play music in summer afternoons.  They often had picnics and sometimes just went there with a few musical instruments like the deff, drum, violin and flute.   A few of them would occasionally perform with musical bands of Slemani and Halabja. They knew the orchard owner Sheikh Walid and his sons and they were welcomed into the orchard whenever they wanted.

These artistic and fun gatherings were possible, whenever there was no threat of a gunfight, especially when there was a prospect of peace and negotiations between the KDP or PUK leadership with the government, to find a settlement for the Kurdish problem. On one of those occasions there was the governments’ initiative for a partial self-rule or autonomy for the Kurdistan Region.  Therefore, there was some hope for peace and the bloodshed to stop.  It happened several times, whenever any prospect of peace was announced, people were jubilant and came out celebrating for a few days.

There were parties, dancing and celebrations for about a week.  People were desperate for peace, but they often looked naive, as there was not yet any conclusion of the negotiations.

At least it was a respite for the people to live and work without fear of any threat of attack and insult.  It was a chance to ease economic sanctions and to travel and move around freely.  However, sometimes it was a cynical ploy by the government to manoeuvre and strengthen their forces; as well as to get its hands inside the revolution, as they sought to create division, to destabilise unity and trust between different groups of the revolutionaries.

Whenever there was a chance, Sajid, Raouf and friends gathered for a Gulan concert:

“Have we assembled from every corner of the town just to talk?”, Azan asked looking at the rest of his friends of the Gulan music group.  Azan soon stood up looking at his violin to check the strings and a rollicking tune sprang forth.  He checked if it was tuned correctly.  The shaded area was secure, as they were in the middle of thickets of trees and bushes in the Gulan orchard.   Rauf was the main singer; he did not play any instrument, apart from a bit of the flute.  There were two violins, a drum and a deff.  The ones who did not play any musical instruments would join a choir, whether their voices fitted in or not.  They did not want to leave anyone out to just sit and watch. The dancing tree branches, shivering leaves in the afternoon breeze, beautiful birds and the bouncing mellow fruits were their audience.

 Doing occasional concerts was one way of getting away from boredom or often hearing bad news of what was happening in Halabja and around the country.   This sort of gathering often happened when occasional ceasefires and negotiations happened, as there was a chance they felt safer in doing a little concert, every now and then, especially in summer.  They often collected some money to buy various types of fruit from the orchard.

 However, the only occasional nuisance was when the son of one of the religious men suddenly came.   Uttering a Salam; he suddenly came as if a vulture had landed in the middle of nowhere, pushed aside bushes and branches and sat down.  He came with his tall figure and his overall dress, split open at the front and overlapping one another, and tightened with a wrinkled colourful material belt at his waist.

Whenever he came, the mood of their concert dropped, and they all welcomed him out of customary politeness.  He unashamedly disrupted their little concert.  He was so ignorant not to realise they did not like his visits.  As soon as he came, they stoppd singing and went quiet.  He urged them to carry on, but the mood was rock bottom with his miserable presence.   So many times, their concert was rudely disrupted.  They got up, and headed home or moved to another place to finish off the concert.

 As some of religious men often said, ‘in Islam leisure time, singing, dancing and entertainment was ‘haram’ and not allowed, as being busy with entertainment would make people forget God.’  That was the general impression of some religious people, but it was often ignored.

 The ones who played musical instruments hoped that one day they would achieve their ambition to be a regular participant in one of the well-known musical bands.  The songs they practiced and sang were the ones performed by the known Kurdish singers, like Hasan Zirak from East Kurdistan in the 1950s and 1960s or Tayier Tawfiq from Erbil, Ali Mardan from Kirkuk, or some local folk singers.  However, sime of the songs Raouf liked best were a few local songs of Halabja like the songs of Hama Qwtu and Omeri Khezan.

A few of the children’s songs were so nice with some funny and sweet lyrics of a music band known as ‘Bawaji Koyia’, such as: ‘Hallaw hallawa gulie barik halalwa, pem wt bo machek gule jwabi nadawa’. That meant: ‘Hello, hello little rosey, you slender rosey, as I asked her for a kiss Rosey, she turned away.’

Another day passed. They chatted on the way back about what to do in their next session.  A few of them had to work hard to earn some money in the summer holidays. As there were no musical colleges to attend, most of the tunes they played by ear.  The three musical young men were busy talking about songs, music, or the best way to learn playing an instrument, but Sajid and Raouf started their own discussion.

Raouf and Sajid were delighted to restart the conversation about the topics last time had not finished, so they started again.  “I can tell you my reading has become more focused, it is no longer reading anything I want for a leisure pursuit.  I love poetry, as it is to do with feeling, natural scenery and music.  Stories in translation are to broaden one’s visual horizon, art and literary criticism that enlighten one’s way of learning about philosophy.   I began dedicating some time for reading, to look up the meaning of English words,” said Sajid.  .

“Words like perception, culture, enlightenment, aesthetics, ascetics etc.   I love to learn English language, it is so arduous, each word at a time, to look it up in the dictionary, but I love it. You know sometimes I have 97 out of 100 in English languages at school.”

His friend was engrossed in listening with interest.   For a while, Rauf had his hand above his eyebrows, shaded his eyes as if looking at the far distance and said, “Oh that is good, you are looking so far ahead”. He deliberately mixed the topic with a joke.  His gesture was rather sarcastic, but still he carried on, “That is really great, now it is my turn to confer with you.  Are you really aware what those topics you mentioned were about?”  Rauf asked with a smile that still lingered on his face.

 “I know it is not easy, but I am interested in philosophy, you may find it funny, as it is not an easy topic, but one has to try.”  Sajid said with a serious expression.  Raouf was still puzzled, “Oh, my God philosophy that is really a heavy subject, I often thought you were better suited for literature and art.”  Rauf sounded unconvinced.

 “Literature is a lofty subject for a pastime, but even the time needed for a pastime is a kind of philosophy of life, but my main goal is finding truth about God, spirit, life and human suffering.  This is a toiling expedition, I know it is not easy, but we have to try to find out.”  Sajid said, looking at his friend’s face, searching for any expression.

His friend’s facial looks got more serious, “That is fantastic, and I wouldn’t mind accompanying you in this amazing trip.  In fact, I have read extracts of some Greek philosophy, when Plato says, “Human is a political animal.”   Moreover, someone else said, ‘a week is a short time in politics’. I do not remember who it was.  I am not heading straight into the topic, just pick or pluck a few jests first, and then we’ll see.”  Rauf said this, but it did not sound quite convincing or reflect a confidence to commit himself to the topic of philosophy.

“But, literature and philosophy may not go together. That might be the case, but nothing would divert my attention from literature, and the enjoyment of beauty cannot be separated from looking for truth, even work and relaxation are too different subjects.’  Sajid said again

“Love of wealth is not in your future plans, but you cannot free yourself from the material world with your spiritual adventure, can you?” Raouf retorted.

‘How miserable life is when one is only concerned with gaining position, wealth and obtaining titles.’  Sajid said, and he was looking up to the far stretched misty purple of Hawraman Mountain and was still thinking….

“You see the cronies’ mindset of nepotism is that any effort not leading to an increase in wealth is a foolish waste of time, and you find them dreaming of titles.  This is the way they have achieved the status of cronyism.   It seems greed leads some into the abyss of a stormy ocean.  We will change our direction and understanding, then their hands will be discovered, that is why If we stay humans we need to know the limits, and not to betray our future generations”, Raouf said, and Sajid nodded in agreement.   It was getting late, and they needed to wait until the rest of their friends would catch up, as it was the time approaching the evening, and the end of the day would again lead each of them in their own directions, as it was a normal way of life.

Yasin Mahmoud Aziz is from Halabja and lives in the UK.  He is the author of ‘Dum Dum Castle’ and two books in Kurdish and he is planning several more books, including ‘A Few Days Life of Revolution in Halabja’. Email: yasin2111@hotmail.com

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