Sunday, 14 October 2012

We do it because we love it. All you have to do is find it

Great, unusual music, there to be explored and enjoyed. Free. Bring your curiosity and a sense of adventure.
Zirak Hamad plays the Daff hand-drum. Amazingly.
I first met Zirak Hamad at one of Paul Murphy’s Songwriters Café sessions. Zirak is a lovely guy, irrepressibly enthusiastic, and a terrific musician. He has a hair-raising background, which makes his current situation all the more remarkable. Zirak is largely responsible for a fascinating new musical development in Balsall Heath, an inner city part of Birmingham: Musikstan, which, every other Thursday, gathers musicians to play together from, literally, around the world. It runs on love and goodwill. 

Entry is free, but you really should make a contribution when they pass the hat around; there are musicians' expenses to pay and the event has running costs to cover. Zirak’s music is great – there’s a Musikstan clip or two to enjoy after the jump. And while it’s a worldwide music thing, chances are you’ll catch some delicious local musical collaborations, as some of Birmingham's finest have started to drop by.

Zirak’s Musikstan gigs are by no means the only music gatherings in town that run on similar lines. Once a month on Sunday afternoons on Moseley, you can catch stunning musicianship, organised by the magnificent percussionist Joelle Barker at the Dance Workshop. On top of that, the City centre Island Bar hosts the Free Love Club, an all-dayer of a folk-ish bent, for free, on Sundays; Sue Fear’s Moseley’s Muso Monday, also (logically) on Monday nights, works on the same principle, there are regular gatherings of different music stripes at the Tower Of Song; and of course there are many more such events.  If I've missed yours out, I apologise - but please do let me know for future reference. 

Here's Zirak, at Musikstan, tearing it up on the Daff hand-drum. I recorded this in September.

Zirak kicked off Musikstan in March of this year. It’s got a clear and simple goal.
Zirak Hamad: Musikstan is about sharing and bringing people together. The business side of music is important, but having music just for music’s sake is important too.  A friend of mine, Andrew Bland, invited us to play at the Old Print Works, and accompanied us on piano.  And it gave me an idea to do something regular. So that’s how it started. Musikstan is based on bringing different musicians together, from different backgrounds and different styles. People are able to ask questions about the music, about the backgrounds and the styles of each type of music. 
In the six months since you started, how has the network of musicians developed, with different people coming in to play?
To start, because I’m a musician, I can bring in many musicians that I know. But then word got out – word of mouth – about Musikstan. Session by session, it developed; musicians contacted me to come and play. We keep it very informal. Musicians are invited to join us, and we leave time for the audience to ask them questions at the end of their set.  We aim to have one musician from Birmingham, and one from outside of the area, because we want musicians to meet and exchange ideas and music, and play together. 
What about your own music?
I have a Kurdish band, and I also have a band called Village Well, which has an Indian tabla player, and a Caribbean steel pan player. I also play in a gypsy band with an Albanian and a Romanian musician…. 
Tell me about your band Village Well….? 
We got the idea in 2010, with a Khora player, me on violin, and Indian Tabla from Pritham Singh. Unfortunately, the Khora player, who lives in London, could not stay with the band, so we added Norman Stewart on Steel Pan instead. This brings all kinds of people together.  Some Kurdish people might come to see me, and Indian people because of Pritham… and Caribbean people because of Norman. So we really are bringing people together through music. 
If you went back to the old country now, after your years in the UK, what would happen? How would people react to you?
Kurdistan has changed a lot since Saddam Hussein’s regime. Kurdish people are more open-minded now. When I went back, I was made very welcome. When I left Kurdistan, I had 24 hours. I found out that a friend of mine – who was working with the Intelligence services under cover – that the next day, they were coming to arrest me, and god knows what would have happened to me afterwards.
So it was: don’t go to work tomorrow, and sort yourself out to get away, because everything was going to end for me. I left Kurdistan straight away. After ten o’clock, they went to my house, and my family said they didn’t know where I was. And that was the truth – they didn’t know where I was, or how I had left. I went to Iran, and then to Turkey, and then  in the end I came to England.
Are your family …OK?
They weren’t. They arrested them and tried to force them to tell where I was. But they didn’t know, because I didn’t tell them what I was doing. So the secret police accepted this - in the end. Now, after Saddam ‘s regime, they’re all right. We have our own government; people are more liberal, and more free…
Did you come to the UK and claim asylum? 
Yes, they gave me asylum. I had to pay a smuggler to get me to the UK. My family supported me, though friends, not directly. We couldn’t use the phone or anything like that….  
So this must have cost your family a fortune in the end.
About 8000 dollars. That’s a lot of money in Kurdistan. 
It’s an extraordinary story, but Zirak might well say that everyone is extraordinary. Now settled in Birmingham, Zirak runs school workshops in middle eastern dance and  music. In 2003, he organised a Kurdish band: Daholl Kurdish Ensemble, as Birmingham didn't have any Kurdish musicians at the time. And his dream is to see Muzikstan become a world music festival in the UK. 

So now he’s  back doing what he loves, which is making music, and working with other musicians. And, as always, this being a Birmingham thing, there’s a lot of collaboration. Paul Murphy has played at Musikstan, as has Joelle Barker, and there’s some mighty collaborations planned for the future. Live, experimental cross-cultural collaborations in an intimate acoustic environment: it’s not something you can bottle. You have to experience it. . Long may it continue


Muso Mondays at the Station, King's Heath, Birmingham

Tower Of Song -

Songwriters Café 

No comments: