A Tribute to Abbas Kamandi (1952-2014), Kurdish Visionary Singer, Song Writer, Author, Poet, Painter

By Dr.Amir Sharifi:

Abbas Kamandi (Photo: Rudaw)

Abbas Kamandi (Photo: Rudaw)

Abbas Kamandi, the prominent and prolific Kurdish singer, song writer, poet, film writer, folk art historian, novelist, and painter passed away at dawn in his home town, Sna (Sanandaj), on May 22, 2014, leaving behind a rich legacy of original Kurdish art and traditions which he took great pains and pleasure to produce and promote. Most Kurds remember Kamandi more than anything else as a folk song singer with an angelic and nostalgic voice. His origins were humble; his childhood was immersed in Kurdish culture and music from his father’s side of the family. His grandfather played the Kurdish oboe, shamshal. He spent his childhood in villages and the city, with Sna (Sandandaj) his preferred place to live his entire life. As he had remarked in an interview “Sanandaj is my birth place. I come and go as I wish; I do not have to speak another tongue; my father, grandfather and my mother lived in this space; this space is permeated with their breaths and it can feed me and quench my thirst. I feel at home …”

When he was seventeen, his promising genius was discovered as he won the first prize for writing a fictional love story Shabou and Hamma Shouane, “Shabou and Hamma Shepherd” which earned him a job at Radio Sanandaj where he met the great folk master and teacher of Kurdish folk music Hassan Kamkar, the father of the world famous Kamkars. It was here that after two years he began to sing. Soon Kamkar and others saw that the young man was overflowing with literary, musical, and intellectual energy. He did not receive a higher education nor would he have been able to find what had captured his heart and mind: Kurdish folklore, folk music and cultural practices. No Kurdish composer and singer has dominated the field of music from 1970’s to late 1990’s and arguably until now as Kamandi has. His work has strongly influenced major Kurdish musicians and composers such as Kamkars, Andalibi, and new singers such as Adel Hawrami. His earliest works “Sabri” a duet with Shahin Talabani,  “gol forosh” “ Flower Seller”, goli baneh “ The Flower of Bannah” revealed his musical talent  before his joint work with Kamkars’ Ensemble in the musical composition and production of “ Hawraman’, “pershang”, “glavizh”, which popularized his works. Kamandi soon came to be  generally admired as a composer and singer of gentle soulful and lovely  songs, some of the most well known ones are :  kalebay “ The Unripe Quince,” Keji lade “The Lade Girl,” , goli dehati, “the Village Flower,” , noroz gol, “The Nowroz Flower,”, “cherghem show bo “ My Light was Night,”, ghazal,  pem dalan farmouda shitam, “They Tell Me You Have Told Them I AM Crazy,” , esk e sok, “the Light Deer,”, chawit nesheh “ May your Eyes not Ache,” natorah “ Do not Sulk.” . During two decades at Radio Sena, Kamandi wrote over 150 lyrics, mostly his own and drawing others from the rich repertoire of Hawraman poets. Some of these tunes became number one in record sales. It is ironic and unfortunate that while many of these works were very lucrative, the artist had for the most part was experiencing financial hardships.

The Islamic Revolution could not silence his inspiring poetic and musical creation as he always found ways to work his way around prohibitions and anti-music hysteria. His unique approach was to study music and any other folk arts in its cultural context as an ethnomusicologist and indigenous cultural anthropologist. As noted by one of the Kamkar brothers, “He would study every region’s music. He was indeed an expert on Kurdish music.”  His global and dynamic approach is reflected in the versatility with which he composed and performed in different genres. He would draw inspirations from familiar people, places, and events. In an interview with Raman Magazine,  he had recalled running into a Kurdish construction worker in Tehran who in search of a job had left his fiancée. The worker’s nostalgia and his longing to be with his sweetheart became the theme of now the famous song Keji Lade “ The Lade Girl”.

In his musical compositions he defied imitative and musical borrowings, advocating original and fresh perspectives. When asked if he had been influenced by Persian music, he had remarked “ No. I have influenced Persian music.” In response to a question about those who Turkify their music and present it as Kurdish, he eschewed their work as “king of thieves”, thieves that have stolen from other thieves as Turks essentially had borrowed their musical tradition from Arabs. He was also very critical of those who sell Kurdish melodies and tunes to be turned into Persian.  He found such acts as “… a crime, the original work would be lost and one day no one can distinguish the original language of the song.”

Kamandi had spent eighteen years of his life researching and compiling and recording ancient Kurdish folkloric stories, legends, beliefs, proverbs, puzzles, verbal arts and oral traditions. In addition, he had also collected an anthology of prominent Kurdish notables in Kurdistan and Kermanshan regions, covering a span of one hundred years.

His expanding creativity also included his collection of poems of prominent poets and oral performers such as Mirza Shafiq Pawai whose works have been passed on orally from generation to generation. In doing so he restored the power of Kurdish language to recapture the world as seen by the poets of the oral traditions. In his scrutiny of Kurdish oral and written literature, he demystified some fallacies about Mastura Ardalan who is erroneously known as a poet rather than a great Kurdish female historian. Beyond reviving old traditions, Kanmandi had also  published a number film scripts, collections of poems, a book volume about Hawraman, a volume about Ancient Sports in Kurdistan, a Biography of the Legendary Singer, Ali Asghar Kordestani, another  title “The Alleys of Sanandaj,” and many works that remain to be published. Without much notice and without any support, Kamandi had also written four novels and over 30 scenarios for short and feature length films during his fruitful years.

Despite the indignities he had suffered, his immense capability for love enabled him to capture new heights and psycho-cultural harmony between man, animal, and nature. As he had repeatedly noted “Love is born with us. It is impossible for a human being not to love, and the one who is in love is the most fortunate; love poses many impediments and misfortunes, but makes one creative; art is the work of those in love; if  one’s work is not the labor of love, it will have nothing to do with art.”  His vivid and expressive vision would lift him from poetic imagination to romantic images of Kurdish landscape that invade his paintings : snow covered mountains, lucid rivers, a white crane drinking water from a steam near bridge, skies of red, yellow, white, and black, two lovers sitting on a patch of snow under a snow covered tree near their snow covered village, outing on a summer afternoon, two women conversing over tea, a lone house on a distant hill with a water fountain on its cobbled yard, women’s public bath, a Kurdish farm house, store fronts and bazars.

Kamandi rarely performed in concerts. He valued his work as a cultural frame, deeply embedded in Kurdish cultural community and historical contexts. Despite long periods of dismay, dehumanizing treatment and exploitation of his work by both institutions and abusive entities and individuals who cashed in on his works, Kamandi  remained truthful and uncompromising when it came to the integrity of his works. His penetrating works are yet to be appreciated by Kurds everywhere.  In 2011, the Mamleh Arts Foundation in Southern Kurdistan in the Kurdish Region awarded him with its annual prize. An exhibition of his paintings was held in 2012 in Sulaimany, to which he was invited a second time to sign one of his publications.

Although for most of us Kamandi remains a legendary singer of love songs and a testament to the living power of our music, we have yet to discover his multi-dimensionality as a painter, researcher, poet, script writer, novelist, and art historian. His visionary work has given young Kurdish artists fresh perspectives and new respect for their rich culture that many of them take for granted. His very life indeed was the ideal specimen of Kurdish folkloric being, thinking, and feeling. On May 22, 2014 thousands of his mourning hometown residents, friends, fans, and many artists, musicians, writers, and poets in a final farewell accompanied him, some with the Kurdish traditional funeral procession of playing daf, to his eternal resting place in Sanandaj.

Dr.Amir Sharifi: President of Kurdish American Education Society-Los Angeles

2 Responses to A Tribute to Abbas Kamandi (1952-2014), Kurdish Visionary Singer, Song Writer, Author, Poet, Painter
  1. Peshmarga
    June 1, 2014 | 12:21

    Time for our independence!

    Americans or Russians: Which one support Kurdish independence ?

    Footage:Russian and Kurdish Military Ground Forces


  2. Kermanj
    June 1, 2014 | 21:48

    President Putin enjoys broad public support in all 4 parts of Kurdistan. He is viewed as a hero to most Kurds. I have his picture hanging on my walls. Without any doubt, he is one of the most influential world leaders, as well. As a Kurdish-Russian citizen, who has lived in Moscow for the last 22 years, I would love to hear about his view regrading Kurdish independence in Iraq??

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