BARCELONA, Spain – It was Gani Mirzo’s heartache, after seeing the misery of fellow Syrians at the Domiz refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region, that pressed on him to use his musical talent to help raise funds and awareness for the 100,000 men, women and children languishing there.
Flying back to Barcelona -- his longtime home after a childhood and early years in Qamishli and Aleppo -- Mirzo had a clear idea of what he could do as a musician.
“On the flight from Istanbul to Barcelona I decided to make a new CD and send the money from sales to the people of Domiz,” he told Rudaw.
His solidarity CDs were snapped up Thursday at a concert before a mostly-Spanish audience in one of the most recent musical spaces in Barcelona, L’ Auditori. Mirzo and the six other members of his band thrilled music lovers with a mixture of Kurdish, Arabic, Spanish and Catalan songs. Mirzo’s compositions are a fusion of flamenco, jazz, Middle Eastern and Kurdish music.
“When I traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan last August and visited the Domiz refugee camp I felt really bad. There were people I knew from before -- some of them former neighbors, people from my district -- and I remembered how they used to live and how they were living now. That broke my heart,” Mirzo said. “This is the first solidarity CD for the Syrian Kurds.”
Iraqi Kurdistan has more than 250,000 Syrian refugees from the civil war, most of them Kurds.
“The Kurdish government has helped them a lot. They have given them tents, food, water, electricity. But they still have to share tents of just a few meters with five or six other people,” Mirzo explained.
It was no wonder that Mirzo turned to music when he was seeking an answer for how to help the people at Domiz. Mirzo discovered music at the age of three or four, when he was growing up in Qamishli.
His love for music was apparent at a very early age; it was a prediction from a gypsy man and many arguments with his mother that shaped the musician in him.
“There was a gypsy man in my neighborhood who used to play the kamancheh (instrument similar to a small violin) and every day I used to go to his house to join his musical gatherings. Sometimes, I would take the saz (stringed musical instrument) to play, and one day an old gypsy man who saw me playing told me ‘son, one day you will be a musician, there is something in you,’” Mirzo remembered.
He also recalled how his parents used to scold him when he went to see the gypsy, because the poor man lived in “just a dirty tent.”
Coming from a humble background himself, Mirzo did not own an instrument until much later in life. But that did not discourage him from playing music.
At the age of five, he would shape his own instruments with large tin boxes he would take from his mother’s kitchen, screwing a long narrow board to its neck and using wires used for bicycle brakes to string up his crude instrument.
“I always used to have arguments with my mother over the cans, because the ones that were empty she would keep to store things. But I used to steal them from her and turn them into a harmonic box,” he recounted.
As a child, Mirzo also developed a taste for Western classical music.
“My father had a radio to listen to news, and I used to take it and look for Western classical music. In my mind at that time, I thought that if it was said that Westerners were better than us then their classical music also would be better than ours,” he said with a grin.
After finishing school in Qamishli, Mirzo went to Aleppo to study music, but without his family’s consent.
“They thought I should do something more useful like follow in the footsteps of other family members who studied medicine. But I was too stubborn.”
For a while he was a music teacher in Aleppo, but then decided to travel to Spain, where he continued further studies for six years at the prestigious Gran Teatre del Liceu, studying flamenco, guitar and singing.
“Flamenco music has a lot to do with the gypsies and the best Kurdish music is played by gypsies. My music has a lot of influence from flamenco, but a Kurd also can identify with it,” Mirzo said.
On his last visit to Iraqi Kurdistan in August, Mirzo went with his very eclectic band – an Algerian female singer with a magnificent voice who has learned to sing in Kurdish, and a first-class group of musicians comprised of a Cuban cellist, a Moroccan percussionist and three Spaniards, playing guitar, box-drum and clarinet.
“We have been preparing the CD for the past three months,” explained Mirzo. “The Tourism Department of Barcelona and the Syrian-Swedish NGO Alaaz, which works to protect Syrian children, helped us with financial support. Plus, I have also financed the project, and we are thinking of doing something in Germany and in other places in the Middle East to sell the CD.”
Mirzo is no stranger to the music scene in Barcelona, where he has been living, learning and teaching music for more than 20 years. He was in charge of opening the first school of Oriental Music in Catalonia in 1998 at the School of Modern Music, part of the internationally-famous Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house.