Readers of this blog may know other parts of my story. In particular that for many years I was an ‘aid worker’.
I turned that hat in at the counter a year ago, relieved and pleased to be focused on new adventures. And though I had many ‘beefs’ with the industry, especially as my career progressed, I have never doubted or belittled the courage of local volunteers.
The backbone of any successful relief or aid operation is the support it receives from local communities. Local volunteers are so critical because they are usually part of the community that is being assisted and have a huge stake in making sure the aid is delivered quickly and efficiently.
But local people are also important because they understand the language and local dialects. They are familiar with the hidden political or cultural agendas that outsiders (like me and my colleagues) miss completely. They know who the local kingpins are. Who to avoid and whose approval is essential for things to work.
They know local back roads and where its best to cross the river and can talk you out of getting killed when you do something offensive or stupid.
So when, once again, we get news that an aid convoy has been attacked in Syria and 20 volunteers are dead, I can’t help but feel angry, sad and pissed off. Many of the victims in this attack were volunteers (that means, unpaid for their dangerous work) with the Syrian Red Crescent Society is especially tragic. SRCS has already lost a large number of volunteers to bullets and bombs. They have suffered so much for simply trying to assist all those who find themselves caught up in the madness of the civil war.
The news brought to mind the music I share today. The songs on this stunning record are sung in a variety of languages spoken in Syria: Kurdish, Arabic, Assyrian, Armenian and Yezidi.
Ibrahim Keivo was born in 1966 in a small village in the region of Hassakeh, in Northern Syria. Son of an Armenian family who survived the genocide, he was raised in the land where ancient Syrian (Al-Jezireh, meaning ”the island”), Mesopotamian and Western Asian cultures meet and create one of the richest and most diverse societies in the region, in term of practiced religions, spoken languages and dialects, and verbal heritage.
Since his early age, Keivo’s mother introduced him to the Armenian hymns she carried with her from her motherland. She has also played a major role in familiarizing him with the Turkish, Kurdish and Mardalli (the Arabic dialect of Mardin) singing traditions of the region of Mardin – Southeastern Turkey – where many Armenians have stopped before finding shelter in other places all around the world.
Landing in Northern Syria brought other cultures to the family; in addition to the Bedouin tradition, Keivo found great inspiration in the ancient civilizations and religions that remained alive in this region: the Assyrian which main language is the Aramaic, the Syriac language and Christianity, and the Yezidism, an ancient Kurdish religion which most important holy place is Lalish temple in Mosul (old Nineveh in Iraq).
Ibrahim Keivo was a faithful witness and curious disciple of the cultural diversity of Northern Syria; and with the support of his family (his father also bought him his first buzok), he soon moved to Aleppo – the capital of traditional Arabic music – to study in the Music Institute. During his stay in Aleppo, Keivo made an encounter that will always be the essential turning point of his career: the composer and musicologist specialized in Syriac and ancient Syrian music, Nouri Iskandar.
Iskandar was the first musician to ever transcribe the music that was verbally passed from generation to the other for several hundreds centuries. From him, Keivo received the authentic rules and secrets of the music that rocked his childhood and youth; and from there he returned to his hometown – in which he lives until now, a choice that only a few artists would make in Syria nowadays – in order to become a teacher in the local music school and to start his own research about the musical heritage of the region.
Shortly, Keivo gained recognition in Northern Syria and in the circuits of popular and traditional music, receiving many awards in this genre from the Festival of the Syrian Song organized at that time in Aleppo. Moreover, he was soon acclaimed as a virtuoso player of the buzok and other similar string instruments typical to the musical traditions he was maintaining, such as the saz, baglama, kamancheh, rababeh, and the oud.
The international career of Ibrahim Keivo started in 2002, with him being casted in the leading singing role of the adaptation of Euripides’ “Bacchus” by the Dutch company ZT-Hollandia. The music was composed by Nouri Iskander and the performance toured all around Europe after being launched during the prestigious “Kunsten Festival des Arts” in Brussels.
After this magnificent premier international appearance, Ibrahim Keivo started to receive invitations to perform solo or with his ensemble in Arab countries and in Europe. Keivo’s unique repertoire draw the attention of one of the most important worldwide acclaimed institutions specialized in the preservation of world music and verbal heritage: “La Maison des cultures du monde in Paris”.
One day, Keivo received a special visit in his hometown – 9 hours away from Damascus, the capital of Syria – from the director of “La Maison des cultures du monde”, and shortly Keivo was invited to participate in “Le festival de l’imaginaire” in Paris, with a tour in other French cities. After the great success of this French tour, Keivo embarked in a new phase in his career: the production of his first international record under the label of the institution, and its launching during a special concert in “L’Institut du Monde Arabe” in Paris.
In 2008, Keivo made his first appearance in front of the Damascene audience as a part of the national celebrations of Damascus Arab Capital of Culture. A few months later, he performed an exceptional solo concert in Damascus Opera House among the activities of the festival “Oriental Landscapes”.
These appearances brought a new wind to the practice of traditional music in Syria because of Keivo’s breathtaking presence on stage, as well as his deep love for the authentic Syrian heritage he beholds, and his sincere believe in the universal thoughts and philosophy carried in this music and capable of crossing all time, cultures and languages barriers.
In 2009, Ibrahim Keivo was invited to Morgenland Festival Osnabruck to perform a piece composed by Nouri Iskandar and played by Osnabruck Chamber Music Orchestra, in addition to collaboration with members of the Syrian Big Band and the Iranian singer Salar Aghili, and finally a breathtaking solo concert presented in this album and featuring a panorama of ancient religious music of Northern Syria, songs from the popular traditions, as well as a two pieces composed by Keivo in the inspiration of the folklore of the region.
However, telling the story of Ibrahim Keivo actually should start far before his birth, childhood and education. It all starts with the first sounds performed by man in the ancient land considered to be the cradle of civilization, and with how this land produced its own artistic forms as well as it genuinely absorbed and recreated the creation of the its neighbors with no prejudices or misconceptions. A story to inspire us when writing our own, in a world on the verge of collapse, under the pressure of current hatred messages and on-growing tensions.
We leave you now with the voice of Ibrahim Keivo, the man, the artist, and the beholder of ancient Syrian musical heritage. May you find in the sounds and words he carries, sources for your own inspiration and echoes to your inner peace and joy. (from eastern voices)
I posted this LP several years ago on Washerman’s Dog. It is one of the true prizes in my collection. A stunning record.
Full of sorrow, hope and anguish for the people of Syria.
01 Lauk (Kurdish)
02 Ashkalafem (Kurdish)
03 Rawi (Assyrian)
04 Goudi (Assyrian)
05 Tartiyawni (Assyrian)
06 Yar Dli (Mardin Arabic)
07 Sabiha(Mardin Arabic)
08 Semsam (Assyrian)
09 Ayes Kechir (Armenian)
10 Teelo Jan (Armenian)
11 Misho Akhchik (Armenian)
12 Sharfadina (Yezidi)
13 Edule & Derweshe Evdi (Yezidi)
14 Dehzarta Tauseda (Yezidi)
15 Siamand (Kurmandji Kurdish)
16 Mawwal, Kul Al Hala (Bedouin Arabic)
In Honor of Syria