Portrait of Hussein smiling and holding a frame drum

The ‘International Music Group’ at Plymouth Music Zone is a collaborative project run in partnership with Devon and Cornwall Refugee Support. It’s a welcoming place for individuals from various backgrounds to come together and engage in music making, sharing songs with each other and forging a sense of connection and community.

Recently, Hussain shared ‘Lorke Lorke’ with the group, which is a traditional song that can found widely in Southwest Asia. Hussain shared his version he knows which is from Kurdistan. Here he is explaining some of the meaning, and we also hear the group learning, and performing it:

This group is such a privilege to be a part of. Everyone gets a chance to share some music, whether that’s a traditional song from where they grew up, or just a song they like. All the group members are so patient with one another (and with me). It also feels very levelling, with native speakers of different languages learning things that are new to them, together. Quite a contrast to experiences I’ve had abroad where everyone else already knows the songs and are native speakers, and I feel like I’m struggling to take on what’s new to me. It feels like there’s a great community feeling, where people are not only really happy to share a piece of music that means something to them, but that they really appreciate learning meaningful songs from others. 

Hussain says that he’s neither a musician or a singer, that he just likes music in general but I think he’s great at both, and that he’s an outstanding teacher with contagious enthusiasm. I love how we go on so many tangents when we’re learning a song from him, we often end up discussing etymologies of certain words that have cropped up. We were talking about cheese because it’s mentioned in Lorke Lorke: “Kêrê bîne pênîr hûrke Xanimê lorke” which I believe means “Cut the cheese into small pieces Mrs Lorke”. It was pointed out by another member of the group that pênîr sounds a bit like Paneer, and indeed we discovered that there is likely to be a common root going all the way back to Indo-European or Iranian. There are a lot of similar words to Paneer from different places including: the Hindi-Urdu term panīr, Persian panir (پنیر), Armenian panir (պանիր), Azerbaijani pəndir, Turkish peynir and Turkmen peýnir. 

I would never have expected to find out about connections like this, that a word you might well have seen on a packet of cheese in a British supermarket has come so many miles, and through so many intermediate languages. I think it’s a great example of how music can be such a gateway to discover commonalities, and these commonalities go well beyond just the words of the song. Hussain shared how it’s about admiring the subject of the song, how they move, how beautiful their hair is, it’s about love. There’s also a dance to go with the song, Hussain wouldn’t demonstrate it, but he did share this video so we could see it. 

I’ve since shared ‘Lorke Lorke’ with other music leaders from Plymouth Music Zone during a training session, and will be using it in other groups too. I think it’s really important actually to be able to share this music directly from someone like Hussain. Sometimes in this field I’ve had people teaching me songs from elsewhere but they don’t know what it means or where it’s from, or even what the words actually are. Sometimes the unknown music contains really nice elements, but it seems really sad that the context is missing, I think it loses a lot of depth.

So far this year we’ve learned songs in Eritrean, Brazilian Portuguese, Arabic, Kurdish, Pashto, Spanish, and a Cornish folk song for good measure. We’re looking forward to what comes next, and exploring more connections together and I can’t wait. There is so much richness encompassing the music which is both deeply humbling and inspirational to me.