FLASH : Kurdish-Jewish Singer Longs for Kurdistan


AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – On June 30, Israeli Kurdish singer Ilana Eliya performed for a Kurdish audience in London for the first time. In an interview with Rudaw, she said she would be happy to return to Kurdistan and perform there. “I would be very happy to perform in Kurdistan. It has not happened up until now. Once they invited me to Diyarbakir, but it never happened,” she said.

Eliya decided to sing in Kurdish to keep her father’s memory alive. Her father was a Jewish cantor who performed religious music and collected songs from the rural areas of Kurdistan. “Every night he used to listen to Radio Kurdistan and recorded the music and would sing it himself,” Eliya said. When she decided to become a singer, she thought about which language to sing in. “When I heard Kurdish music, it reminded me of my father. It took me at least five years to listen to it without crying.”

Her friends advised her to sing in Kurdish. After all, there were no Kurdish singers living in Israel. “I think we share the same history [Kurds and Jews],” Eliya said. “We did not have a country at the time. There is one song about the Jews who don’t have a country. It is called the ‘Voyager Song’ and it is about the Jew going from land to land without having a homeland.”

Eliya described how her path had its difficulties. “When you would say you are Kurdish [in Israel], they would say you are dumb. Kurds were seen as less civilized and I was ashamed of being Kurdish as a kid. But now it is very different and Kurdish food and performances are popular. When I wanted to sing in Hebrew or Arabic in concerts, they would tell me to sing in Kurdish. It took a long time, 20 years, but now it’s different,” she said. In her songs, she tells of the culture of Kurds and Kurdish women. “Lots of people did not know about Halabja,” Eliya explained. “They were bombarded by chemical weapons and I explained it. Furthermore, I explained how women feel in Kurdish society, like the song ‘Babe Seyran’ which is about how www.mesop.de  women protest in Kurdish society. It is not about entertainment. That’s why Kurds did not like it very much.” Eliya also performs in schools and tells children about how Kurds have no country of their own. “They didn’t know it,” she said about the fact that Kurds are the largest nation without a homeland. In the future, Eliya would like to work with Western musicians in order to introduce the culture and music of Kurdistan to a wider audience, “so that all the world hears the beautiful music of Kurdistan,” she said.