Stories of Change Through Music

His dream has always been to travel the world and tell stories of change through music. Cyrus of Raw Music International went to Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region in the north of Iraq, because few places in the world are changing more rapidly.

He’d read about a rich musical tradition carried out under the most brutal conditions. Singers traveled on foot and kept the Kurdish language and culture alive despite the best efforts of Saddam Hussein. During that regime, the very act of singing in Kurdish was political, and many musicians caught doing it were punished with death.

But in the Kurdistan of 2014, I found a musical void. The old musicians were gone. They were dead, or living abroad, or they had simply taken other jobs and forgotten how to play. The ouster of the old dictator came with the side benefit of new oil money. Those who once sang sad songs of the Kurdish past now found themselves preoccupied with more capitalist pursuits. The Kurds may be ignoring the music of the past, because for the first time in recent history, they can afford to imagine a future.

He traveled mountain villages and dusty cities and found almost no one who could play an instrument. In Kalar, a conservative, religious desert town, 18 year-old Mohammad described his situation to me: “I crave art, but my family says make money. My mother burned my books. They don’t understand.”

He met Helly Luv and Iraj, two amazing artists from opposite ends of the socio-economic scale, trying desperately to make it in the new Kurdistan. "I may have arrived too late to meet the legendary singers of old. But I was just in time to meet the young musicians shaping a new nation"    NBC News story on Cyrus:
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