By Saya Zahawi
Do you have that one thing that has stayed with you throughout the years? Something that’s always there wherever you go? Mine is an album.
Naser Razazi is a renowned Kurdish musician. Razazi found the love of his life when he was a young vocalist. A fan, named Merziye Fariqi, wrote to him and asked him to come to her village in Sine to mentor her and to help her become a singer. When Razazi arrived Sine, Merziye declared her love for him, and they decided to get married. At first, her parents did not approve, but eventually gave in when they found out about the young couple’s elopement plans.
Merziye and Razazi got married in 1978. Soon, the couple joined the Peshmerga and became members of the Komala Party, fighting for Kurdish rights which were not tolerated by the Iranian government. Thus, the couple fled to Sweden. In 2005 Razazi lost his wife and became a widower. And after the fall of Saddam’s regime, he moved to Kurdistan Regional Government (Bashur).
Through his 15 albums, Razazi has bewitched Kurds from all over the world. The one that grabbed me was his album Kermashan (1999), which he recorded in Sweden. The stunning musician mixed Kurdish folk with Western pop, expressing his longing for his home in Rojhelat (The Kurdish province in Iran).
I was introduced to his album when I was three years old and we were still living in Hawler. The moment I got into the car, the driver put on my favourite love song: track number 6, Shirinexanim (My Sweet Lady).
I Shirinexanim is a famous folk song that has been performed by many artists and has several different versions. Razazi’s version is made for Kurds to grab each other’s hands and dance!
The song was played every morning on our way to my nursery. And on our way back from the wonderful picnics in the majestic Kurdish mountains. It puts a big smile on my face each time I listen to it, which is why it is always on.
We had never played it the years we lived in Syria. There, Fairuz was the star. With her gentle warm voice, she’d sing my new favourite song, Sallimleh Alayh.
After five years of travelling back and forth between Damascus and Hawler, we once again moved to a different country. On the 8th of April 2003, we arrived at our destination: Kristiansund. It was on the same day Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled to the ground. The man we had to flee from, was finally overthrown.
I was only eight or nine years old, three years after settling in Norway, when I re-discovered Kermashan. It was a sunny Norwegian afternoon and my parents were taking their nap. I slipped into their room and searched in their closet for something that I could play with. I found an ice cream box full of cassette tapes and without realising it, I put Kermashan into the cassette player. Then, track number 6 came on and I was sent back in time. I ended up in the backseat of our old car dancing, laughing and clapping. I stood up and started spinning round and round. This became my afternoon routine for a couple of months.
When I started studying music in high school in 2012, I randomly thought about the album that I hadn’t listened to for at least 7 years. Sadly, I couldn’t find the cassette, so I had to look for the album online, and was lucky to find it on Spotify!
This time track number 3, Shar (Town), was the one that attracted my attention. A Kurdish styled blues song, with a saxophone solo that melted my heart. Razazi sings about how something was missing in his life. He felt a need to leave the city in Sweden and go back to the place where he felt complete. He wanted to cure this emptiness by drinking the water from a well in his birth town. A subject that resonates with me to this day. Even now, while walking along the empty streets of crowded London. I listen to track number 3, daydreaming about a place where I can belong.
I picked this album as an ode to us Kurds. I’ve been listening to this album for 21 years. 21 is a very special number. The yellow sun on the Kurdish flag has 21 rays. And the Kurdish new year, Newroz falls on the 21st of March.
I got so excited when I heard that Naser Razazi was going to perform in London today, but like most people during the current situation, I will celebrate Newroz inside. Thankfully, I won’t be bored, because I’ll be listening to Kermashanh.