Hassan Sharif, a very well-known Kurdish singer born in Duhok, Iraqi Kurdistan, started singing at an early age before joining the Pêshmerga in their fight against Saddam Hussein’s army for a year and a half. He was just 15 years old when he left for the mountains to fight.
The years 1997/1998 were the start of his fame as a singer, particularly with the release of his first CD in Kurdistan. The year 2000 was the year when he became very famous internationally, not only in Kurdistan. He went to Sweden and did numerous interviews with Kurdish TV channels as part of a wider tour playing many concerts and festivals in Europe, where he was introduced to more Kurds living abroad.
Most recently, the 46-year-old volleyball lover visited the Pêshmerga’s current location last year and played songs for them to raise their moral in their fight against the Islamic State. He lives with his wife and two children in Duhok.
With his mountain voice, he attracted millions of Kurds, especially Kurdish folk lovers. ”Our people lived in mountains; we grew up listening to Kurdish folk songs. Who knows, maybe if I was born in Europe, I might have liked another type of music, but as I spent my youth listening to folk, I have a special admiration for it.” Hassan Sharif told ZÎV.
- How was your experience singing a symphony about Pêshmerga with Shivan Perwer, Xêro Abbas made by the musician legend Dilshad?
While making the song, we had a great time especially because Xêro Abbas and I are close friends; he kept forgetting his part. Xêro even typed his part of the symphony in big letters on a piece of paper and asked the camera man to hold it for him so he can read it but Mr. Dilshad, did not accept Xêro’s suggestion. Sometimes, Xêro would try to put the blame on someone else if he forgot some words of his part (laughs).
- You made songs for Kobane and the Pêshmerga, do you think it’s time for Kurdish singers to be involved deeply in the current Kurdish situation?
Without a shred of doubt. Our country isn’t only divided, it’s also restless and conflicts are taking place in many parts of it. Our people haven’t witnessed rest and peace for so long. Our goal is to reconnect our people in the four parts of Kurdistan by song. Kobane is a symbol of humanity and when the Pêshmerga came across Turkey to help defend Kobane alongside the YPG and YPJ, I found it to be such a historical event and that I wanted to make a song about it; not for political reasons but for the sake of Kurdish brotherhood and union.
- What is the difference between Helly Luv’s song about Pêshmerga and the symphony you sang in?
Helly Luv has a different style and she had much more financial support in making her song.
Luv got financial support from the Iraqi Kurdistan government for her song, which was more than any support given to any Kurdish singer. I don’t see this as a negative thing, but if we got the same financial support she got for her song, our songs would go viral. Kurdish singers have quite limited support.
Though there was so much effort making Helly Luv song, as all the scenes were carefully made, I think she could have done much better with the finance she got. If, for example, they brought a singer from Hollywood and gave her this financial support to make a song about the Peshmerga, the song would have been a huge deal.
- What do you think is missing in Kurdish songs?
We first need to hold on and keep our folk music, and from this foundation, we can develop it. The problem I find with Kurdish music today is that singers try very hard to imitate foreign styles of music and sometimes I can’t recognise if the song is Kurdish or foreign. Greek songs for example, are very modern but at the same time, they have an identity, they kept the identity but they developed it to its shape now.
- How do you think we can spread Kurdish music more to the world?
Our songs need to be more genuine, have good lyrics, be sung with more sensibility and get more financial support. We have many good singers and bands, especially when it comes to dancing music, which should be sung in international festivals so people can be introduced to it.
- Do you have any other projects apart from making songs?
I have a project in mind but I don’t have enough funds for it. The project is to open a music school in Duhok teaching children to play Kurdish instruments like tanbur (Saz). There are so many unemployed Kurdish musicians so this will give them a chance to use their skills as well.
To be completely honest with you, I am a well-known singer and even after releasing 10 albums, I can’t live off my music only. Even huge Kurdish names in music like Mohamad Shêxo and Muhamad Arif Jaziri, were struggling financially. Now and then back when they were alive, their songs were sold around the world; yet, their family did not get anything back, literally nothing. It’s like all they have done and the struggle they went through was in vain for them.
- What do you think about freedom in Kurdistan especially toward women?
Kurds have become more conservative than they used to be, at least in their songs. Old Kurdish songs have daring lyrics; we were very open when talking about things now we consider taboos. If you see around you in Kurdistan, 60% of women wear those black veils with golden patterns. We are very much affected by the Arab culture in the Gulf and all we care about now is money, cars and gold etc.
Moreover, I see that Kurds even in these difficult situations, don’t like each other, they like strangers more. When a stranger comes and sings here, the government in Iraqi Kurdistan will do everything for them. They can finance them for one song more than they could ever finance 10 albums for a well-known Kurdish singer, all from the Kurdish state money, from its people’s struggle, from its martyrs’. This is what upsets me the most. They say in Kurdish “The grass of our garden isn’t as nice as the grass outside the house”.