Khabat Abas of Kurdistan-Iraq talking about cellos, bombshells, silenced stories of women

Making instruments, making music overlaps directly with the issue of mapping sound to emotional experience, meaning, and orientation. Let’s listen to Khabat Abas, a musician, composer, sound artist, and instrument maker from Kurdistan-Iraq. She works directly at the crossing of so many of the issues we’ve encountered in the past months – and finds ways to make experimental cellos out of repurposed bombshells.

Abas’ work binds the political and emotional together in even the instruments she plays as objects. This full interview is worth a proper listen, as it goes deep into her relationship with learning the cello and how she has imagined and built new forms for that instrument.

That includes an experiment from last summer, a cello with a body made from a bomb casing she found in a bazaar in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq (in the northeast).

The Bombshell cello 9-B7-343

She speaks specifically to that instrument in the interview, and it’s connection to her lived experience:

I feel the darkness of the sound of the instrument – maybe it’s just me. It’s a heavy, heavy instrument – not as weight heavy, but the feeling is heavy to play it.

Like a reflection of the lifestyle – we learned, we heard sound around us, what we listened to … how the silence is. So we became afraid of the silence sometimes. If you are silent, it’s like something wrong is happening. 

Kind of mapping sound – or mapping location from listening to the sound and what’s going to happen.

Here’s the full interview (thanks so much to AGF):

We became afraid of the silence sometimes.

The program is on the terrific REC-ON – motto, “listening political sound global”. Product page with link (including links to Kurdish women’s stories and activism):

Direct MP3 download (so you can load this up and take a walk and listen properly)

Khabat Abas is an experimental, improviser cellist,  and composer from Kurdistan-Iraq who likes to break the rules; she experiments with the cello structurally and musically, improvising, composing, doing a sound installation, creating diverse cellos, and using her own body. The silenced stories of Women inspire her. She makes it to be heard through her compositions, using diverse materials to protest against oppressions rooted in social and political systems. She questions what is out of bounds, raising the possibilities of sounds that contrast with traditional musical values and cannot be controlled.

Khabat has performed with various ensembles, including the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra, Sulaymaniyah string orchestra, Gothenburg Academic Symphony Orchestra, and the Non-Ensemble for experimental music in Sweden, London Improvisation Orchestra and ONe_Orchestra New, Noise women.  She has also collaborated with curators, artists and musicians in Kurdistan-Iraq, Sweden, Germany, and the UK, Aba’s electro-acoustic cello  piece was performed in Slemani-Kurdistan as a part of the Global Listening Biennial . She also performed in the festival  Space21 festival in Iraq Kurdistan, the Winter sound festival in Canterbury,UK,  Borderline Festival Athens,Soundout festival Caberra Australia, EAR WE ARE Festival Sweitzerland, and she participated in the project  (Abandoned space) collaboration between the Sonorities festival in Belfast and Space21 festival in Kurdistan and her composition played in Klangwerkstatt, Festival for New Music in Berlin and Space21 festival n Kurdistan and London new jazz festival in London. She is co-founder of Duo Moment; together with Hardi Kurda, they released two albums, “Broken Resonance” on Space21 Label and “Illegal Performance” at Café Oto 2021. She has been awarded a grant from Salam culture house in Iraqi Kurdistan and the Swedish art council community, and Stim Forward Fund in Sweden.    

She’s also posted some of her preparation techniques for “abnormal dialogue” with cello:

Each time when I’m playing, I don’t say I’m playing cello. I’m dialoguing with cello.

There’s also this poetic sound installation:


is a Kurdish word that means stitches it is a loops of thread that connect fabrics and other material together. My mother had to work extra as a tailor to support her family.  therefore, whenever I came across a sewing machine reminds me of my mom’s story when she is sewing her pain,  with each stitch “Taqal” she is telling her story.Taqal examines the loops of cultural, social and political friction from a woman’s perspective. In this project, my mom’s sewing machine and its sounds are used metaphorically to represent obstructions against women and the difficulties they have in facing them.

And for a place to start listening to her music, try the Duo Moment:

Moment is a Kurdish experimental, free improvisation Duo by Khabat Abas and Hardi Kurda. The duo focus on a moment where sounds emerges through interacting, reflecting, reacting and interrupting each other. Hardi and Khabat want to share their experience of sound making with audience, to experience a world of sounds and noises from East to West.

This album is a collection of live performances by Khabat and Hardi between 2016 and 2020.

مۆمێنت (سات) گروپێکی کوردی دووانیە لەلایەن خەبات عەباس و هەردی کوردە، کە سەرنج دەدەن بە هونەری موزیکی سەردەم، تاقیگەری، خۆژەنینی ئازاد و نۆیز

ئەم گروپە گرنگی دەدات بەو ساتەی کە دەنگ دروستدەبێت لەرێگەی خۆژەنین بە بێ خۆ ئامادەکردن، لە دەرئەنجام دەنگەکان بەریەک دەکەون، وەڵامی یەکتر دەدەنەوە و یەکتر دەپچرێن لەو ساتەدا. لە هەمان کاتدا لە رێگەی سەربەخۆی نمایشی شێوەی بەکارهێنانی ئامێرەکانیان و شتومەکی رۆژانە ساتێک دروستدەکەن بۆ ئەوەی بوارێک برەخسێنن بۆ ئەو دەنگانەی کە چاوەروان نەکراو و کتوپر دێن لە کاتی ژەنیندا

هەردی و خەبات لە رێگەی ژەینینەکانیانەوە دەیانەوێت پرۆسەی دروستکردنی دەنگ ئاڵوگۆر بکەن لەگەڵ گوێگردا. لەم رێگەیەوە گوێگریش بتوانێت تێروانینی خۆی دروستبکات بۆ گوێگرتن لە دەنگاکان،و ئەزمونێکی تری گوگرتن دروستبکەن لە جیهانێک لەو دەنگ و نۆیزانەی لە رۆژهەڵاتەوە دەستبێدەکات بۆ رۆژئاوا.

ئەم ئەلبومە کۆکراوەی چەند کۆنسێرتێکە لە ساڵی ٢٠١٦ بۆ ٢٠٢٠.

Her site (which works fine, even if it lacks a secure address):

PS, you can go follow Antye aka AGF aka poemproducer for more of this kind of story on a near-daily basis, by heading over to Mastodon and out of Elonbook (Elonster?):

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