The music of Southwest Asia and the surrounding regions share much in the way of musical instruments and styles, but a particularly fascinating occurrence throughout the region is the phenomena of the “shared song.” This refers to songs that are shared in part or in full across borders, languages, or ethnicities. This month’s Ajam mix presents a sampling of shared songs from a variety of countries in the region.
While some songs are performed in a nearly identical manner across different borders, many of these songs may have different lyrics or arrangements to go with the common melody. Yet each shared song provides some kind of insight into often neglected or simply bygone cultural flows around the world.
For example, the opening trio of songs begins with the classic Arabic song “Bint Al-Shalabiya,” composed by the famous Rahbani Brothers and performed by Lebanese Diva Fairuz. From here, the mix presents a version in Persian performed by Vigen and Pouran known as “Shaneh,” and a version of the song in Turkish entitled, “Boyle Gelmis Boyle Gecer.” All three of the songs are classics in their own right, even if their shared origin is often forgotten.
While Global Northern music connoisseurs often focus on regional versions of more Western genres of music such as psychedelic or rock, shared songs like Bint al-Shalabiya serve as refreshing reminders that culture flows not just from the “West” to some vaguely defined “East,” but rather, that individuals in Southwest Asia and the region are in meaningful conversation with happenings in their own neighborhood.
At the same time, the stories of these songs are not always without controversy. As the global phenomena of nationalist and chauvinist ideologies attempt to create strict divisions between peoples and erase their common history, shared songs often exist in contested cultural space as battlegrounds for nationalist aggressions to play out. A particular example presented in this mix is that of “Sari Gelin”: a folk song from the Caucasus region that is commonly performed in Armenian, Azeri Turkish, Persian, and Anatolian Turkish. While the Persian version is generally considered a poetic take on some earlier folk song of the region, Armenian and Azeri nationalisms often attempt to lay exclusive claim over the “original” song.
The version presented in this mix is an arrangement by Djivan Gasparyan and Hossein Alizadeh, sung in Armenian, Azeri Turkish, and Persian. For at least one musical moment, this performance sets aside modern contentions of musical ownership and instead presents a vision of a time in which shared vestiges of culture can be reasons for celebration rather than sites of conflict.
Regardless of the different contexts of shared songs between cultures, the global music community has still been blessed with an ongoing slew of artists and curators who have embraced shared music as something intrinsically beautiful and powerful in its own right. My own mix was partly inspired by an ongoing Youtube series that attempts to highlight shared music between Greeks and Turks. That series in question refers to a poignant poem by Turkish politician and poet Bulent Ecevit regarding the cultural divide between Greeks and Turks. Of such ethnic conflicts, Ecevit writes:
When you feel homesick, you become aware
That Greeks and Turks are brothers.
When you hear a Greek song,
You conjure up an image of a child from Istanbul
Living in the midst of his exile
To many shared songs may ultimately be little more than a novelty; to others, however, such music can contain “dangerous” vestiges of a cultural history that some prefer to be forgotten. In either case, while this music may not be enough to bring about reconciliation of transnational conflicts and wounds, at the very least these songs may provide us with the sound and spirit of a more unified world.
1) Safiye Ayla – Katibim (Uskudara Gider Iken)
2) Klezroym – Fel Shara
3) Katerina Papadapolou – Apo Kseno Topo
4) Fairuz – Bint Al-Shalabiya
5) Vigen and Pooran – Shaneh
6) Deniz Seki – Boyle Gelmis Boyle Gecer
7) Haris Alexiou – Aman Katerina Mou
8) Meliha Gulses – Aman Cevriye Hanim
9) Yosra Mahnouch – Meyhane
10) Omid Jahan – Meyhane
11) Hossein Alizadeh and Djivan Gasparyan – Sari Gelin