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Afrin musician teaches region's musical heritage to children

Mostafa Bakr has opened a music school in downtown Afrin where he teaches children and adults to play the string instruments of the region, from buzuq to tanbur.

AFRIN, Syria — To the locals, Mostafa Bakr, a young Kurdish musician from Afrin, is a true virtuoso. Bakr established a small music school in the city — the Awaz Institute — where he teaches budding talents the region’s musical heritage

Afrin is a town in the northern Aleppo countryside with a rich musical past — many families there own an instrument, often a tanbur, a long-necked string instrument that originates from Mesopotamia. Often hung on the wall, the tanbur is a central part of the Kurdish identity and heritage, and is played at weddings, during Nowruz (New Year's) celebrations and other occasions. It is also popular among the younger generation.

Bakr plays most of the region’s instruments with ease, from the long-necked tanbur to the smaller buzuq and teaches others to play at the music school located at his own home downtown. His students are from all age groups and play a wide range of instruments. Lilav Mostafa, a young woman with a clear voice, has been learning to play the tanbur. Sifan Ali Haider, a 40-year-old man, is learning to play the buzuq, a four-string instrument in the oud family with a small body and a long, fretted neck. Bakr also teaches children, such as Khalil Osman who is learning to play the baglama, a string instrument with seven strings.

Al-Monitor met with Hoshiar Hussein, who is a gifted 16-year-old buzuq player. “I began to play the buzuq when I was nine but I learned to play scales at the institute about three months ago,” Hussein told Al-Monitor.

Haifan Ahmad, 18, plays the baglama, too. “I love this instrument and I sing while playing. The baglama is connected to the Kurds and means a lot to me. It is part of who I am,” she told Al-Monitor.

“Adult students usually like to learn to play traditional instruments such as the tanbur and buzuq. Younger students — in addition to their passion for traditional music — also tend to like Western musical instruments such as the guitar,” Bakr said.

Bakr said that he owes a lot to Naim Shabab, his teacher and role model. Shabab is a Syrian musician from the city of Afrin, who is known and respected in his hometown because he ran a music school there in 2010-2017. He has taught many young people to play instruments. He currently lives in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, where he also established a music institute.

“Thanks to my mentor Shahab, I have an extensive music experience,” Bakr told Al-Monitor as he gave a tour of his music school. “I read a lot about music and international and Kurdish musicians. I play the tanbur and other string instruments of the region, including the seven-string baglama, the four-string buzuq and the oud, and I teach them at the Awaz Institute.”

“Thirty students of different ages are enrolled in the institute. The two-hour music lessons are scheduled twice a week and cost 4,000 Syrian pounds a month [$8]. This nominal fee allows more students who wish to hone their musical skills to come on board,” he said.

Bakr added, “Traditional music is a cultural heritage and language for communication between people, carrying a message of love and peace and expressing joy and sadness."

On the occasion of Nowruz on March 16, Bakr and his students made a music video that was filmed with modest means on the outskirts of the city.

The video, which shows the young students performing a traditional song, only has just over 1,400 views so far but it has encouraged the students to continue playing music to make their voices heard.

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