Assyrian/Syriac folk music

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Assyrian/Syriac folk music (Syriac: ܡܘܣܝܩܝ ܣܦܝܢܘܬܐ ܐܬܘܪܝܬܐ/ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ) is the traditional music of the Assyrian people (also called by the theological terms Syriac Christians and Chaldean Catholics). It claims descendancy from the music of their ancient Mesopotamian ancestors that has survived in the liturgical music of the Syriac Churches. It can also be found in traditional middle eastern Makams.

History[edit]

Tribal and Folkloric Period[edit]

Music, is omnipresent in the village scene. A “Musician” is not necessarily a professional, and whoever can sing in any manner is considered a “singer”. Most of the time, music is learned by ear. The villagers lead a hard life, but whenever there is an opportunity, they love to make music or listen to it. Village music may be categorized, basically, into four groups: Local secular music not related to specific occasions; functional music; religious music; music adopted from other areas. Here are few types of tribal Assyrian Music that has survived to this day, especially in the Assyrian villages and towns of Northern Iraq, southeast Turkey, northwest Iran and northeast Syria:

  • Rawey: A mostly love songs with a story-tale structure, which may include themes about daily life, suffering and pain.
  • Diwane: Sung in gatherings and meetings; lyrics cover aspects of life such as, working in the fields, persecution, suffering, religion.
  • Lilyana: Wedding songs usually sung by women only, especially for the bride before leaving her home to get married. Also sung for the bridegroom the day before his wedding by his family and relatives.
  • Dowlah and Zornah: These are two traditional music instruments, literally meaning a drum and wind-pipe (or flute). They are played together, either with or without singing in many ceremonies such as weddings, welcoming and funerals (however, for funerals played for unmarried men, they are accompanied by singing).
  • Tambura: Another tribal music instrument, a string instrument with long neck, originated in ancient Assyria, discovered being depicted on carving from South Iraq from UR to Akkad and Ashur. Albert Rouel Tamraz is a famous Assyrian Singer from Iraq who played this instrument and sung many beautiful folkloric songs accompanied by hand-drum (tabla).

It was in the area north of Mosul that people started to write the modern Syriac vernacular more than two hundred years before the earliest British missionaries. The earliest dated text is a poem written in 1591. This makes early Neo-Syriac literature a contemporary of Jewish Neo-Aramaic literature from roughly the same region, dating back to the late 16th century. The Neo-Syriac literature which existed before the arrival of British and American missionaries consisted mainly of poetry. This poetry can be divided into three categories: stanzaic Hymns, dispute poems, and drinking songs. Of these three categories, only the hymns, which in Neo-Syriac are termed duriky; (sg: durak or durikta) and which can be seen as the equivalent of the Classical Syriac madrase, can usually be traced back to individual authors.

Most duriky; are dated, ranging from the late sixteenth to the late nineteenth century. Most manuscripts come from the late nineteenth century, the first specimen of this poetry was transcribed on the basis of oral recitation, a poem by T'oma Singari. This edition was soon followed by Lidzbarski's edition of a poem of Yosep Jemdani from Telkepe (Telkaif) and one of HnaniSo' from Rustaqa. Three other poems by Yosep from Telkepe were published by Bernard Vandenhoff. The most complete list of duriky; is the one by Poizat, Another group of poems can be grouped together as "dispute poems", in which two "persons" in turn are speaking. They often also carry the epitheth durik, probably due to the fact that they display the same poetical pattern of monorhyme strophes. Out of seven dispute poems, three are not explicitly religious, whereas the others are.

These uncertainties with respect to time of origin also account for the third group of Neo-Syriac poems, the zmiryate d-rawe. "drinking songs". Here we are in the realm of popular songs, to be sung or recited at weddings and the like. These songs often have parallels in other region languages and probably were transmitted orally for a long period before they were put into writing. Two manuscripts of a Neo-Syriac translation of a Gospel lectionary from the Alqosh area, which are ascribed to a certain deacon Israel the language of these poems does not represent the particular dialect of its single authors, but rather a standardized form in use in northern Iraq. (H. L. Murre-van den Berg).

Modern Assyrian Music[edit]

World War One, and the resulting Assyrian Genocide, drove many Assyrians out from their mountainous region of Hakkari (South East Turkey) back into the Assyrian regions of northern Iraq, and WWII brought them in direct contact with the west especially the British army in Iraq, Russians in Urmia and the French in Syria. But the contact with the British caused the most influence on modern Assyrian Music, especially the period after the independence of Iraq in 1932, which brought British oil companies into Iraq and they employed many by now English speaking Assyrians. At this time they came in contact with western Music and Instruments. Assyrian youth started picking up and playing these new instruments after seeing and hearing the British playing. Assyrian youths started to find new bands and to play in parties, picnics and other functions for both Assyrians and others.

In Baghdad, Iraq the earliest known record is by Hanna Patros in 1931 – perhaps two Gramophones (78rpm) with 2 songs on each (church hymns and folk songs). Called “"Karuzuta d-khasha". Hanna Petros (1896–1958). Later became the music director at the conservatory in Baghdad. There were church hymns and folklore songs with a musical company on the records.

Albert Rouel Tamras releases his first records in Baghdad in 1966 on Bashirphone label owned by Jameil Bashir an Assyrian Iraqi oud and Violin Soloist. Singing in the background with Albert are Biba and Sargon Gabriel two Assyrian singers who will later become modern Assyrian singers in the US. Gabriel Asaad (1907–1997) in 1926 wrote and composed his first song "Othroye Ho Mtoth Elfan L-Metba".

The ethnically Assyrian and Armenian metal band Melechesh incorporates extensive Assyrian-Mesopotamian influences both lyrically and instrumentally in their music.

Assyrian Dances[edit]

Assyrians are proud people and one thing they master from a young age is dancing, these are few dancing that have survived to-date and you will see them danced in any Assyrian function. No one knows what their names means or who found them, but with some exceptions on few.

  • Shekhani Dance: It describes the scene depicting the commander of the army returning from a war. Ashur, the second in command has spoken to the army about the victory of their commander. He has given them good tidings, thus the armed forces world then start dancing Shekhani, which then start a well esteemed dance by the Assyrians.

Some say the word comes from Bshkhana (getting warm), Assyrians before going on a hunt or battle they would dance on this beat to get warm. Much of the Assyrian original homeland was in snow-peaked mountains of Ashur, Assyria.

  • Tawlama Dance: The Assyrians of Iran, when they celebrate the wedding of a groom, and at the time when the groom is being shaved while sitting on a chair with the barber standing over him, the best man would shout at the barber and ask him why isn't his razor shaving well, and would give him money to then reply "Yes", best man, now my razor is really shaving well. It is running like fire. The best man shouts "come on boys and girls let us dance Tawlama in front of the groom".

Among the oldest Assyrian dances, rarely performed these days. Due to the decline of new Assyrian songs on this beautiful beat.

  • The Sword and Shield dance: The Youth of two villages are gathered in one place. Two young men are contesting their strength to lift up a rock, to find out who is stronger. Soon after this contest was over, the two youth would be handed a sword or a dagger and made to dance the sword and shield dance. Each one had to strike the other's armour and flick it away. He who succeeded would be declared the winner.
  • Beriyo Dance: It can be visualised this way: Girls are sitting on a rag placed on the field near the herd of sheep. After the sheep have been milked, one of the girls says to the others – "Sisters, we are through with milking, so let us call the shepherd to play us the tune of Bereek, meaning Beriyo". This tune of Beriyo was created by Assyrians to coincide with that moment of time when our grownup boys and girls were at the sheep fold to milk the sheep.
  • Semiramis Dance: As the armed forces of the Assyrian Queen Semiramis, are returning from a War, having conquered their enemies, the commander of the army would arrange a celebration in honour of the victory. In the same palace that the Queen would set up quarters, young men and women would be made ready to dance in her honour the famed dance of Semiramis.
  • Khegga: One of the most commonly danced, maybe because it is very simple to dance and also it is the first beat that is played in welcoming the Bride and Groom to the reception Halls, at least in the East Assyrian tradition. Some of these, dancing such as Khegga also have other sub-styles like 'heavy Khegga' or 'Normal Khegga'. Heavy simply means the same dance beat but slower. Another style and interesting move with Khegga is instead of taking steps forward they would actually step back, so they would be dancing but will be moving back, Khegga d'Suria, found among Assyrians of Syria.

Belatee:

  • Chobe: A modern dance found around an Arabic-Iraqi folk beat, after many Assyrian singers began singing Arabic-Iraqi Chobe songs, Assyrians had to find a way to dance. Although Arab Iraqis already had a Chobe dance, but Proud Assyrians found their own line dancing on the beat of Chobe.
  • Shora: A beautiful dramatic Assyrian of Syria Dance. The name means a (Battle!). I find this dance to be among the most interesting and dramatic dancing to watch.
  • Sas kanee: A Fast and interesting dance found mainly in Nineveh among the Catholic Assyrians of Alqush and surrounding villages.
  • Six Eight 6/8: A dance of Assyrians of Urmia driven from the beat timing of 6/8, which is also found among the Persians themselves.

Among other dances are those western influenced styles such as, Slow dance, waltz,…etc.

List of Assyrian singers[edit]

Sources[edit]