In A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts, Christiane Bird refers to Sivan Perwer as ‘the most popular of all Kurdish singers.’ Later in the same book, she relates a story about him that she heard from a group of Kurdish performing artists in Istanbul. In the mid-1970s, Perwer sang Kurdish songs in a Turkish stadium before a sell-out crowd. Since the singing of Kurdish songs, the speaking of Kurdish, and indeed any other expression of Kurdish culture was banned in Turkey at the time, Perwer nearly caused a riot, and had to be spirited away by his fans before he got arrested.
According to his Wikipedia bio, Perwer first gained notoriety in the early 1970s during a period of student protests at Ankara University. He didn’t start recording until he emigrated to Germany in 1976 – probably after that stadium incident. He still lives in Germany, where there is a sizeable Kurdish community, but spends much of his time traveling around the world as an ambassador of Kurdish music and culture. While he performs traditional music (love songs and epics about the past), he has also written many political songs, including one about the Anfal (the deadly attacks on many communities in Iraqi Kurdistan carried out by the Baathists in the late 1980s) that includes these lyrics (reprinted in A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts): ‘From the air comes the sound of planes, and everything is on fire, fog and dust. From the land comes the sound of crying children.’ Not surprisingly, his political songs are still banned in Turkey, and are probably not very popular with the authorities in Iraq or Iran or Syria, either.
Perwer has a strong voice, with tremendous range and an uncanny ability to ululate, that is, to make melodious vocalizations with his throat. (I’ve heard women do this more than men.) He accompanies himself on the Kurdish lute (the tembur), although he often travels and records with other musicians – in fact, two of the six backup musicians featured on this CD are also in Efkar, whose debut CD I recently reviewed. Because of his immense popularity, music and video files of his performances are relatively easy to find on the net. Watching him perform, even on a computer monitor, is a totally awesome experience.
Min bêriya te kiriye is a live CD, so it gives the listener a good sense of the experience of Perwer in concert. He generally gives a brief introduction to each song, typically in English. His speaking voice is low and husky, not at all like his singing voice. The CD runs about an hour in length, and features fourteen tracks recorded in France in August and November 2003. They represent a mix of his own compositions, including the elegy about the chemical bombing of Halabja that Bird quotes in her book, and traditional songs, including one in Zazaki, a dialect from the northern part of Kurdistan, and one in Sorani, a dialect from the South. These songs were obviously very familiar to the audience; on track eleven, they sing along with the chorus. Overall, the CD is a pleasure to listen to. About the only annoying aspect is the applause at the end of each track (except between ten and eleven, which segue). I know this is part of the ‘live’ experience — it just comes across as less than enjoyable when you aren’t in the audience.
Min bêriya te kiriye comes in a fold-out package with a little booklet of liner notes in French and English. Too bad the font is so small – that combined with the red background and blue type renders the text quite challenging to read. On the plus side, the folder contains information about each song, including lyrics in Kurdish, English and French. Perwer’s enunciation of his lyrics is so clear (and the production so clean) that I found it quite easy to follow along in the Kurdish as I listened to him sing.
Perwer is deservedly popular. He’s a wonderful, passionate singer, songwriter and musician with a powerful message. While it’s extraordinarily difficult to obtain copies of his CDs in the US, it’s not impossible. If you are interested, you might also want to see Robert’s review of his earlier, self-titled CD.