The Transformative Power of Turkish Music

Sunday, 10 April 2016 15:03

Review - Turkish Music Spring Concert at FBKM. 9th April 2016

I would describe traditional Turkish music as an acquired taste. That's in no way meant disparagingly. Some of my favourite flavours - including olives, fresh coffee, real ale, scotch whisky – are ones whose enjoyment I have developed over the course of time. When first introduced to these flavours, my pallet was overwhelmed by their power, variety, and extremes. However, as I grew familiar with them, new layers emerged; subtleties never noticed before when my senses were being bombarded with the new. Enjoyment came over time, and with it the ability to compare, contrast and discern different styles.

That's exactly how I feel about traditional Turkish music. When I first heard its sound, the melodies seemed discordant, the lamentations felt overly dramatic, and the quivering tones were all too much for me. It wasn't that I believed this music was bad; I just didn't know how to properly appreciate it.

I could have asked for no better immersion into this musical style then, and a way towards appreciation, than the 2016 spring concert at Fethiye's Cultural Centre (Fethiye Belediyesi Kültür Merkezi / FBKM).

The stage was filled with 10 musicians, and 24 choristers, all introduced onto the stage by name. The conductor, Emin Akan , welcomed the audience to the concert and drew attention to the red carnations which the performers all had pinned to their chests. These were a mark of defiance and remembrance in the face of Turkey's recent bomb attacks. Mr Akan then led the whole auditorium in a minute's silence to reflect on this upsetting state of affairs.

The musicians carried a variety of traditional Turkish instruments; mainly strings. Four artists played the Ud; a pear-shaped Lute. One man played the Kanun; a type of zither, in this case a 26-stringed board, a little comparable to a harp. Others beat a couple of flat drums; one known as a Bendir, is very similar to the Irish Bodhrán, while the other, the Mazhar has brass jingles as one might recognise on a tambourine. Also, more familiar to western audiences, were a three violins (Keman in Turkish).

As the evening went on, I developed more and more of an appreciation of the styles, discovering layers in the vocals and instrumentals that I didn't notice at first. My one criticism would be the electric amplification, which was often so high that the volume deafened-out a lot of subtleties within the performances.

The highlight of the evening was definitely the solo singers' performances. The first of these soloists, Şafak Atayman, set the bar high with her wonderful rendition of Sen Nazla Gezerken Güzelim Güller İçinde (which translates to something like, 'As we walked together through the roses'). Other favourites included Eski Dostler ('Old Best Friends'), Âşıka Bağdat Sorulmaz, Yiğidim Aslanım Burda Yatıyor ('My Brave One, My Lion, Is Lying Here'), and Olmaz İlaç Sine-i Sad Pareme, which was given a belting performance by Davut Sılay.

The show's climax was the marching anthem, Dağ Başını Duman Almış ('There was Smoke on the Mountain Top', based on a Swedish folk-score, and synonymous with Turkey's national Youth and Sports Day on May 19th), which caught the whole auditorium in a swell of patriotism. I was reminded of the UK's Last Night of the Proms, as every performer waved the flag of the Turkish Republic, while every member of the audience rose to their feet, and sang along with gusto and pride.

This was a wonderful and varied night. I have definitely developed a new appreciation for the traditional music of my adoptive home, and I look forward to discovering more about this wonderful form.

This article was first published in Land of Lights on 16th May 2016.

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