“Kurdish people makes a new Kurdish history with music”

Formed in 2015, Istanbul-based band “Danuk” aims to take Kurdish culture to the masses with music. Band members Ferhad Feyssal and Fayssal Macit told about their musical journey.

Ferhad Feyssal recounts Confucius, the 6th century Chinese philosopher, musing that to truly know someone, one must listen to their music. Confucius noted that ‘if one should desire to know whether a kingdom is well governed, if its morals are good or bad, the quality of its music will furnish the answer,’ and for Danuk, music is a way to spread Kurdish culture around the world. 

Speaking about the recent interest in Kurds and Kurdish culture, which began to boom in Europe during the siege of Kobane, Ferhad’s band member Fayssal Macit pointed at the many misconceptions people hold about Kurdish culture. ‘Kurdish people are not just fighters, out of the darkness. We’re not just about ISIS,’ he says, ‘By the day, we change. We are musicians and artists.’

Ferhad adds that the famed fighters of the YPG were not always so: ‘they were also normal people, and then they had to go to war.’ Fayssal completes this sentiment by explaining that Kurds are ‘not just attacking in the darkness. We have so many love stories, so many peaceful stories.’

A project based on a love for peace

Danuk as a project is exactly about those two ideas: love and peace, or rather, a love for peace. The band formed in May 2015, on the eve of Turkey’s general elections. ‘When we started to make music… the war started,’ says Fayssal. In a time of conflict between Kurds and the state in Turkey, the band members fear they can’t play on the streets anymore, something that Ferhad ‘misses a lot.’ However, playing music on the streets is how the ensemble met.

‘When we started to play in the streets, every song, because it was folk [music]... everyone could listen,’ says Ferhad. ‘Because when you start to make folk, it’s folk from your culture and your people, but another people are also feeling with you, taking this energy, loving this energy.’

Ferhad, who hails from Haseke in Syria, where he grew up in the same neighbourhood as Hozan Osman, met Fayssal while he was playing on the street in another Kurdish ensemble. ‘I also had some other Kurdish music projects,’ says Fayssal, ‘but I thought about [playing] this kind [instead].’ Fayssal, who had played music in Eskisehir, Antalya and Istanbul, was used to making Kurdish music - but in Turkish.

‘It’s different because Hozan and Ferhad come from Rojava,’ he says. ‘The Kurdish from Rojava, they know our language better. They can explain and speak about philosophic things in Kurdish. In Turkey, the Kurdish people, [we] explain ourselves in Turkish.’ For Fayssal, the band coming together was a new beginning for his adventures in Kurdish music: ‘for me, this is most important. When we work together, we work in Kurdish and we make Kurdish music. For me, it’s such a pleasure.’

Half Turkish, half Syrian

Despite the band members differing origins - half Turkish, half Syrian - they have found a connection in one language, Kurdish, and a Kurdish culture spanning the region of Mesopotamia they all call home. The band’s name derives from a Mesopotamian custom which Hozan and Ferhad knew well from their childhood in Haseke. Every winter, friends and families would collect around the danuk, a pot used to prepare bulgur, prepare a fire and listen to stories from older members of the community, as well as songs. After waiting two hours for the danuk to be ready, everyone would share from the pot and eat together.

The members of Danuk aim to take Kurdish culture and music to the masses in the same manner. While they come from different cities, they listened to the same folk songs as children, hearing the same stories of loves lost or kings fighting over land in the Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia). Whereas Ferhad started playing guitar when he was 21, Hozan learned buzuq with his sisters at home from a young age, and Fayssal likewise learned daf from his father. Gül Temiz also joins the band on mey and zurna.

While the songs they play together often span from an ancient tradition, the band does not want them to remain staid. They want to mix and share their Danuk with other cultures and traditions. While many Kurdish music projects aim only to preserve folk songs, which Ferhad estimates at only 3000 in number, Danuk wants to mix the tunes, present them with new instruments and experiment with the music of other cultures. The one thing they can’t change, says Ferhad, is the maqam, the classic melody.

Streets are their goal

Ferhad’s dream of a mixed pot of Kurdish music finally seemed real when he watched Danuk’s first promo video, which the band shot over the course of 24 hours. ‘Everywhere is war,’ he says, ‘more people and more songs are coming to sadness and crying about what’s happened… [but] you can’t change anything with crying.’ What can change, the band agrees, is ‘when you have an idea for peace and you want to share this peace with another people, not just Kurdish, Turkish, Arabic - anyone… When I saw the finished video clip for the first time I said… it’s true, we can make beautiful things.’

So Danuk aren’t happy with just playing concerts in Istanbul. Though right now the band feel they can’t play together on the streets, with Fayssal having experienced incidents of anti-Kurdish prejudice in previous endeavours, they’d like to move outside of their concerts, and outside of the city entirely. ‘When the peace is coming to Turkey, we want to go on a tour,’ says Ferhad. The dream is a tour around the country, also extending to Rojava, with each concert having both the symbolic danuk of musical mixing and a real danuk to share with their audience.

Despite all their talk on peace and war, the members don’t consider Danuk a political project. In fact, they’d rather stay away from politics and get on with making music with other artists, whether they be from Serbia, Spain or Syria. But in times of conflict, traditional songs such as the ones that Danuk play resonate. ‘We have melancholic music also, about history. Kurdistan was under attack all the time,’ adds Fayssal as Hozan plays the buzuq. ‘Right now we want freedom. Music is also political and it’s changing all the time. Kurdish people are making a new history with this music.’


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Mel Plant