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London Jazz Festival: Aynur at Southbank – A Night of Rumination & Joy

Photo by the wub on Wikimedia (Under License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

Aynur’s Kurdish heritage has a nomadic history, and tonight her voice has found its place within the Royal Festival Hall.

The show opens beautifully with a performance from the classically trained Iranian musician Adib Rostami and self-taught Kurdish harpist Tara Jaff. They dedicate their melodies that night to Jina (Mahsa) Amini, the young Kurdish girl killed by morality police in Iran, in early 2022.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the tone for the rest of the show is set to be reflective and joyous. EFG, London Jazz Festival’s convenor introduces Aynur by talking about her many achievements, of which include the Master of Mediterranean Music Award, WOMEX Artist Award as well as her partnerships with artists such as Yo-Yo Ma and Javier Limón. She also introduces – to those in the audience who aren’t familiar with Aynur’s early work – the controversial nature of her music.

Born in Eastern Turkey, Aynur learnt the tembûr and to sing at an early age. She began releasing Kurdish music and became one of the most successful Kurdish artists in Turkey, a feat that was provocative in itself, due to certain restrictions and taboos around speaking and singing in the Kurdish language.

Aynur graces the stage in a floor length red gown and plays the tembûr in her first song of the night: a gorgeous recital of ‘Rewend (Gocebe)’, which was also sung on her first performance on KEXP a couple months ago. It details the dark night, feeling lost and the nature imagery of Kurdistan. The song lasts eight minutes, where it goes from a quiet, whisper-like ballad to a magnificent and raw demonstration of her full vocal abilities.

Aynur has the talent of incorporating scat-singing, a prominent feature of jazz, in her songs. Combining the already rich history of jazz with nearly three hundred year-old folk songs. Her band enhances the theme of jazz, with a brilliant pianist, drummer, and saxophonist providing an edge that creates those familiar groovy sounds.

Her set list included songs which describe violent oppression, including the 1938 massacre in Dersim, Aynur’s hometown. Those in the audience who are familiar with the melody commemorate it alongside Aynur, and those that don’t recognise the cherishment in which she sings it. These songs have become an account of these tragic events, passed from generation to generation and are now being told on a stage in London, thousands of miles, and years away.

The audience (including myself) were calling for her more popular songs as she moved away from the melancholic tunes. ‘Keçe Kurdan’ and ‘Yar Melek e’ bought a joyous energy to the dark and grand Royal festival Hall; it enveloped every part of the room as I heard ululations from the balconies and rear stalls giving Aynur and those near the front encouragement and love. The latter song is one of her most famous and controversial, as the words ‘keçe’ (girl) and ‘cenge’ (battle) roused up enough hostility that the song was banned in Turkey when it was released. However, due to public outcry the ban only lasted a year, and people have been celebrating the song’s dedication to Kurdish women ever since

She performed her new songRabe Edlaye’ with the same fervour as her older, more established songs. The tune had the audience clapping along with its upbeat and catchy rhythm throughout its duration. The night ends with this same atmosphere; the audience clapping, ululating, dancing, and sending their love and appreciation to Aynur for her art.

For many people, this performance is important. Not just as a musical expression in times where art seems undervalued, but an expression of the Kurdish language which continues to face discrimination. Aynur notes this in her KEXP interview, that the expression of Kurdish shouldn’t be barred from being taught. It’s a beautiful and rich language which holds a multitude of different stories hidden within songs and oral anecdotes, and to lose them would be a tragedy for heritage preservation.

Find out more about Aynur at her website, and more about London Jazz Festival at their website

Edited by Lucy Blackmur, Music Editor


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