ANKARA: The award-winning Kurdish soprano Pervin Chakar may have made her name on international opera stages, but throughout her long and distinguished career she has also focused on the musical heritage of her homeland.
Her new album, “Breath of Nahrain,” proves the point. It is a collection (and reimagining) of the rich melodies of Mesopotamia — the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that is often referred to as ‘the cradle of civilization,’ but is now equally well-known as a site of violent conflict.
The five tracks on the album are sung in Kurdish, Kurmanci, Zazaki, Armenian and Assyrian — thus covering Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Armenia; a reflection of the area’s diverse history and culture. The album’s recently released first single, the Kurdish-language “Heyran Jaro,” for example, is based on a love song familiar to the region’s nomadic tribes.
“The song is about two lovers who cannot be together,” Chakar told Arab News. “It resembles the big, mad scene — a 15-minute rollercoaster ride of very extravagant music — in Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor.’”
Clocking in at almost a quarter of an hour, “Heyran Jaro” is not an obvious choice for a single. But, as Chakar explained: “I couldn’t interrupt the lyrics of this love story. I wanted to abide by its spirit,” she said.
It was no easy task for Chakar to put the album together; she was meticulous in her approach to ensuring she was singing these ancient languages properly, and in adapting the folk-song source material into operatic form. But her insistence on singing in Kurdish has cost her in the past, with several concerts being cancelled in Turkey and harsh criticism coming from conservative circles. Still, Chakar felt it was too important a record to be dissuaded from releasing it.
“These lands were part of a very rich cultural heritage that should be recognized by Western musicians and (the music industry),” she said. “This album helped me to pay tribute to my personal roots and it gave me enormous strength. People continuously fought for these lands, where blood has often been shed; they constantly faced atrocities. But, despite everything, they managed to live together and produce a great musical treasury.”
As an opera singer, Chakar is used to ‘learning’ different languages. She has performed across Europe, singing in — among others — Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Assyrian, Italian, Yiddish, and German. In a recent performance in Germany, she even sung a Ukranian lullaby, which she dedicated to children around the world.
Chakar grew up in a Kurdish family in Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin. She was studying at a conservatory in Ankara when she first heard an album by the legendary diva Maria Callas. It was at that point, she explained, that she knew for certain what she wanted to do with the rest of her life: Become a soprano.
Her first major break came when an Italian opera manager visited Ankara. He was so impressed by Chakar’s voice that he invited her to Italy, the birthplace of opera. She attended the Conservatorio di Musica F. Morlacchi in Perugia, from which she graduated with honors.
Kurdish ethno-musicologist Huseyin Erdem believes the true importance of Chakar’s work should be recognized. “Pervin’s works provide people with the opportunity to perceive music accurately — to experience high-quality musical aesthetics,” Erdem told Arab News. “She is a source of light, from which the field of Kurdish folk songs can only benefit.”
“As a musician who has spent years abroad, and has now lived in Germany for a couple of years, I would like to stick to my cultural and linguistic roots, while at the same time singing in the languages of my neighboring communities. It’s kind of a way of thanking them,” Chakar said.
“Although I have sung in several languages — singing in the language of my own land gives me a distinct flavor,” she continued. “We all need peace, calm and tolerance. I’m so lucky that with this album and with my other projects I’m able to be positioned as an ambassador of music for peace.”