The Morgenland Festival builds bridges between the music of East and West. This year, organizers are putting Kurdish music in the spotlight - an undertaking which is not always easy to manage, the festival director says.
Kurdish music is the focus this year. Was the diversity of Kurdish culture important in choosing this theme?
Michael Dreyer: That certainly played a role, although the major consideration was featuring music from minorities in places where music is very important in maintaining a cultural identity. That's true for Kurds, who primarily live in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Of course, in these regions, all musical cultures have influenced one another. Kurdish and Persian musical styles have influenced each other - and the same goes for Azeri or Armenian styles and so forth.
Kurdish music has many facets. Which genres will listeners hear at the festival this year?
I always try to put together a program that's not exactly a world music festival - instead offering the whole spectrum from traditional music to hip-hop or jazz. The point is showing that all of these musical directions are represented in the countries on which we focus. People here may not know that there's a huge hip-hop scene in Iran, and so forth. On the other hand, the festival takes place in Osnabrück, a little town, so I try to draw in as many people and as many tastes as possible.
Is there additional programming running alongside the festival concerts - like readings or exhibitions?
Even though this is a music festival, I had thought that we should give people some background they could take with them: What is the political situation of Kurdish people, or something along those lines. At first I wanted to have a podium discussion or show a film. But then I decided that we actually have a lot of very good texts about these issues in the program, and I think that's perhaps better because then everyone can take them for free and read them at home in peace and quiet. They are very informative texts about the situation of Kurds in Europe and elsewhere.
The Morgenland Festival has taken place since 2005 in Osnabrück. Has the city proved a good host, or have you sometimes wished you were somewhere like Berlin, Hamburg or Frankfurt?
Well, I've often been asked why I don't put it on in Hamburg or Berlin - cities where there are big Iranian, Arab or Turkish communities, for example. That has its appeal of course. If I were to do that in Berlin, where I also lived for a long time, it would end up getting spread out to all sorts of venues in a city where it would drown in a sea of existing cultural offerings. So in that sense Osnabrück is ideal because it's a very intimate atmosphere, and the musicians really like that.
It also fits because the Peace of Westphalia treaties were signed here in 1648 between Münster and Osnabrück. And the city does indeed try to lend content to the idea of being a city of peace.
A number of musicians at the festival this year come from Syria. How difficult was it to host artists from Syria?
It was very difficult. The embassies in Damascus are closed. France and Britain are no longer issuing visas to artists for projects like these. We were able to provide the five artists from Syria with visas by way of the German Embassy in Beirut.
The musicians are really excited about coming because musical life in Damascus has basically come to a standstill for the last year.
What's the festival closer going to be like this year?
It's a party with Hakan Vreskala, a Kurdish punk rocker from Stockholm, who is going to play with DJ Ipek Ipekcioglu, a really great Turkish DJ from Berlin. Like I said, it's supposed to be a very broad spectrum. So we'll start traditional and end with punk!
Michael Dreyer heads the Morgenland Festival, which runs in Osnabrück from August 24 to September 1, 2012.
Interview: Shahram Ahadi / gsw