Although a songwriter in her own right, Paula Darwish has become more well known in recent years for her unique and captivating interpretations of Turkish and Kurdish folk songs.
The unique sound of The Country and Eastern Band, with its diverse eastern and western influences, relies on a careful balance of the familiar with the unknown.
With its passionate vocal deliveries, dancey global rhythms and unique arrangements of classic pieces of traditional music from all over modern day Turkey, the music resonates with listeners all over the world.
Paula Darwish & the Country and Eastern Band are based in Manchester, England
Born in Northern England to an English mother and Jordanian father, Darwish grew up listening to both “Eastern” and “Western” music. Her first big influence was the famous Lebanese singer Fairuz who she regularly listened to at home. As a teenager, she learnt classical piano and played flute and saxophone in orchestras. She later became interested in folk and protest music and taught herself guitar so she would be able to perform solo in the clubs.
Darwish began to write her own songs and joined several bands as a keyboard player aswell as performing solo on the acoustic circuit. Working as a postwoman at the time, she grew tired of the late nights and early mornings and also frustrated by the music scene. She decided to save up and try to realise her dream of travelling around the Mediterranean.The plan came off and Darwish lived for a short while in Crete and Turkey, immediately falling in love with the local music. She returned to England with a few CD’s in her bag and a new dream of one day being able to sing some of the new songs she had heard on her travels.
She returned to work as a post woman but a few years later, applied to the London University School of Oriental and African Studies planning to study Arabic and Middle Eastern history. However, fate took a hand and when she saw Turkish language was also available she decided to apply for that as well. Having been accepted for both courses, Darwish decided to follow her dream and enrolled on the course for Turkish Language and Literature with Middle Eastern History.
Living in London provided the opportunity to hang out in the Turkish and Kurdish music cafés of Hackney and once again be immersed in the music she loved. Her biggest passion was for the types of music known in Turkey as halk müziği and özgün müziği and Dalston in North East London was full of bars and community centres playing just this kind of music. Still playing as a solo performer in the acoustic cafes of London, Paula began to add a few Turkish songs to the repertoire and found British audiences receptive to the beautiful melodies of Anatolian folk.
During her third college year, Darwish studied at the Bosphorous University in Istanbul, and played some gigs in Istanbul and Izmir. On her return to London, she became a well known figure playing on the Turkish and Kurdish music scene of North London. After gaining a first class degree in Turkish, she returned to Istanbul with the intention of getting a job and starting a new band. Whilst musical opportunities were many, unable to earn enough money to survive, she was forced to return to England and start again.
Not wishing to be pigeon holed by UK audiences as solely a world music act, she created The Country & Eastern band with the idea of fusing musical styles to make Eastern music more acceptable to general UK audiences. The plan worked and together with her band she has been a regular performer on the UK music scene since then. Darwish was signed to Berlin label Oriental Media in 2005 and released the EP “Urfa Folk Song”. She performed every month for five years at Manchester’s Iguana Bar before stopping to concentrate on recording the album “Do what you love” in 2008. The album was released on her own label “Purple Sheep Records in 2009”.
The band have played at several large festivals including the UK’s second biggest world music festival Musicport, and toured the UK in 2009 and 2010. Footage of live gigs posted on the internet in recent years brought renewed attention from Turkey and Darwish began to refocus more on her original passion of traditional Turkish and Kurdish folk. In 2010 Darwish and the band were the subject of a TV documentary shown on National Turkish TV station TRT. Demand from fans lead to tours in Turkey in 2010 and 2011. The EP “3 Kurdish songs” was released in 2011 and “3 songs in Turkish” is due for release later in the year.
Darwish is respected for her contribution to the world of global fusion as well as her work in the more traditional arena of Turkish and Kurdish folk music. She performs with full 7 piece electric band aswell as in a more traditional trio and quartet.
Something else about the music…
The geographical area of modern day Turkey contains a huge variety of different musical styles and traditions, and each region has its own distinct musical sound. This reflects the history of a land where to this day it is estimated there are over 40 native ethnic groups. Whilst some songs have a distinctive regional sound, such as Turkic, Balkan, Arab or Greek, other songs are a complex mixture of vocal styles and traditions from several regions. Many of the songs also have several versions in the different regional languages including Turkish, Laz, Kurmanji, Zazaca, Azeri and Armenian. The traditional music predates the era of the nation state and national identities and reflects a time when ethnic, religious and tribal identities dominated over the modern day concept of national loyalties. Whilst current day maps and national borders of the region were only carved out in the early 20th Century, many of these traditional songs go back hundreds of years before that and were transported from village to village by travelling musicians.