No.3 July/August 2000
Oh, This Music
traditions of Turkey are exceedingly rich and as varied as the Turkish
people. The topic of this month’s column is the music which
emerged from out of those traditions, often referred to as halk music.;
that is, the music of the people. Don’t expect an analytical
overview, though. There are numerous books approaching halk
music in that way, although as far as I’ve been able to determine,
they’re all written in Turkish. Here I’m simply trying to set
down something about my own experience of this music, only that.
What follows are not the insights of an expert, but rather, the
impressions of a devoted amateur, an ‘amateur’ in the orignal,
non-perjorative sense of the word meaning someone who loves something
they have a passionate interest in.
My first exposure to halk music was during an exceedingly hot and (as it proved to be in retrospect) exceedingly fateful Istanbul summer. I had just met the man who was to become my partner and in our early weeks together he brought me to dozens of places throughout the city where halk music was played and danced to. Drunk as I was, on raký and love, both, I felt the music drawing me into the very heart and soul of Turkey. My sense is that the real center here is not the Akmerkez/Vakko/holding company set; rather, it is a deep, rich, resonant, vibrant, multilevelled, multivalent core that’s somehow managed to survive in spite of all that’s been done to try and finish it.
What is it about this music that had such a profound effect on me? I think it must have something to do with the minor key. The first time I heard the minor key was when I was a child. My father was a pianist, and while I was growing up there was always music in the house. We had a baby grand in the living room and often a group of musicians and singers would come and perform for each other. I would hide my pajama-clad self in a corner near the hallway and watch. Anyway, I remember my father playing records and among them was a recording of Middle Eastern music. Of course, I didn’t know what it was at the time; all I knew is that when the notes came they were a shock and it felt as if I was being enfolded and carried far, far away. Aeons later, when I heard the same music during that summer here in Istanbul this childhood memory came flooding back. I am convinced that the minor key has profound physiological and spiritual effects on the human being. While all music allows us to change our consciousness, music in the minor key (or at least some of it, because I’m certainly not including Arabesque music or the latest pop hit from Tarkan or Sibel Can in this category) seems to promote not only changing but developing consciousness. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there is something about its most excellent forms that can carry us simultaneously outwards towards the farthermost reaches of the universe and inwards to encounter successively deeper levels of our self.
Just listening to the music is a powerful experience in itself. I remember once, when a renowned dervish musician brought me to a Sufi tekke to listen to music that I was so taken by it I unconsciously started to move my hands and feet in time with it. This just isn’t done. Possibly the only Sufis who include dance in their rituals are the whirling dervishes (all male) of the Mevlevi order and the Alevi who have a ritual dance called sema that couples perform. This tekke didn’t belong to either of those orders. I felt eyes on me and it was the dervish, who had cocked his head to one side and was shaking his finger at me in soft admonition. Later I asked him “How can anybody not move to this music?” He answered by saying that there were other ways of moving besides using your body. Hmm. In the sixties a lot of people would have said that was heavy. I wonder what they will say now that we’ve arrived in the 21st century. I wonder if we’ve lost or gained . . .
The music and the dance originated about 1000 years ago in the steppes of Asia. Traditionally, the lyrics weren’t written down but instead were passed down through the generations by wandering poets, called âþýklar, not at all unlike the medieval troubadours of Western Europe. Only some of these songs are mystical; others treat political and national events, still others deal with the entire gamut of personal human experience and emotion: life transformations, everyday events, romances (those that have gone well and those that have gone badly), being in exile, the loss of one’s home, or one’s beloved, or a family member; finally, there are whose which tell about the cycles of the earth: the flourishing of crops, famine, flood, fire, and drought.
Some examples? Well, there’s the early music of Zülfü Livaneli, much of which comes under the heading of political and national and became associated with groups concerned with freedom and brotherhood during the 60’s. Joan Baez sang one of his songs, Leylim Ley, when she came here in 1986. Then there’s the genre to which Aþýk Veysel’s music belonged, one of his most memorable songs being Kara Toprak, which describes a near mystical connection with the earth. There was Ruhi Su and now Rahmi Saltak, Tolga Chandar, Arif Sað, Sükriye Tutkun, and Sadýk Gürbüz, to name only a few. .
Clearly I’m on the side of those who like to move when listening to music, but here it must be said that dancing to Turkish music is decidedly not like dancing to Western music. I’m not talking about slow dancing here, but the kind of dances we do to pop, rock, reggae and metal. We tend to dance using jerky, staccato movements and our shoulders tend to be very, very stiff. Turkish dance involves movements of the body, especially the arms, belly, and hips, that Westerners, particularly women, don’t feel they can decently do outside the bedroom, if they do it there. However, learning how to move that way is a profoundly freeing experience. To learn how to move this way pushed my being way beyond what I once thought were ýts limits and brought me into contact with aspects of myself I’d never encountered before. I’ve also learned that dance can be an exquisitely nuanced way of expressing emotions that otherwise might never, ever have been manifested.
Dance, when you are broken open.
Dance, if you have torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you are perfectly free
(Jalahuddin Rumi, d. 1273. Translated by Coleman Barks)
Lo and behold, here we are again. More insight into the nature of being, and all because we find ourselves in Istanbul. There’s got to be a meaning here. Now, if only we can find it . . .
|No.1- April 2000||No.11 April 2001||No. 20 July 2002||No 29 April 2003|
|No.2 June 2000||No.12 May 2001||No. 22 September 2002||NO 30 MAY 2003|
|No.3 July/August 2000||No. 13 June 2001||No. 23 October 2002||NO 31 JUNE 2003|
|No.5 October 2000||No.14 July 2001||No 24 November 2002||NO 32 JULY 2003|
|No.7 December 2000||No.15 August 2001||No 25 DECEMBER 2002||NO 33 August|
(No. 8 Ocak 2001 - Türkçe tercume
|NO 16 September 2001||No 26 January 2003||No 34 September|
|No.9 February 2001||No. 17 April 2002||No 27 February 2003||No 35 October|
|No.10 March 2001||NO 19 JUNE 2002||No 28 March 2003||No
36 January 2004
|No 37 February - March 2004||No 38 April 2004|
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