Muhammed and Muhammed: Traditional Kurdish Music

Arkan Muhammed
, of Murfreesboro, is one of the most sought-after Kurdish musicians in Tennessee. Arkan began learning music from his father when he was a child and has since fallen in love with the keyboard. He plays at weddings, festivals, and various events around the state and the Southeast.

Nashville is home to the largest Kurdish population in the United States. Kurdish refugees began being resettled in Nashville in 1976. The third and largest wave of Kurdish resettlement to Nashville took place in the early 1990s, for those fleeing Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaign against Kurdish people. Nashville is now home to a robust and lively Kurdish community, called “Little Kurdistan” in south Nashville.

Kurdish music means many different things, as Kurdish people can be found in Southern Kurdistan or Iraqi Kurdistan, and parts of Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Regional variations in the music can change even from village to village. Arkan ’s stage name is Arkan Doski, which references the village in Kurdistan from which his music originates. Kurdish music is based on particular, recognizable rhythms. It uses a quarter tone scale just like other middle eastern music, but with energetic, tireless rhythms that make Kurdish music unlike any other musical form. These rhythms are named after the villages in Kurdistan that they come from, so when people hear the rhythm, they know its exact origin.

Arkan uses the electric keyboard to create the sounds that four or five instruments would make in Kurdistan. Arkan explains, “Nobody has those instruments. It’s just keyboard over here, and it does everything.” Arkan believes that Kurdish traditions are at risk of being lost by the younger generation born in the United States. He says, “It’s very important to the community and important to pass down, especially since not everyone can do it. It’s important because it’s good to pass along because you’re not going to be here forever. It’s good to pass along to the next generation, their mind being more open than the old generation. Let it keep going and going.”

As part of the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program this year, Arkan will teach his son Ayan Muhammed. Ayan is excited to learn from his father and carry on the family tradition. Arkan will teach his son the basic keys and quarter tone notes, from which the rhythms will be built.