Road Came to Washington
Yonca POYRAZ DOGAN (*)
is the Hagia Sophia doing in the shadow of the Washington Monument? The famed
museum of Istanbul
is not exactly there, only a replica about as tall as
you are. It’s part of a folk festival celebrating
the ancient Silk Road, which began in Xi'an, the ancient capital of
China, went north and south of China's Takla Makan Desert,
and through Central and Western Asia to the eastern end
of the Mediterranean. A wealth of cultures and traditions
lay along the route, and they come to life in the heart
of Washington as well.
Silk Road,” the theme of this year’s Smithsonian
Folklife Festival, celebrated the living traditional arts
of peoples of Silk Road lands. The ancient Silk Road was
a vast network of trade routes. Ideas, culture, music
and art that crossed the mountains and deserts of Central
Asia to connect East Asia and the Mediterranean.
of these were on display at the festival. Twenty-six countries
were represented and more than 350 artists participated.
“Connecting cultures and creating trust” was
the slogan. 1 million visitors enjoyed it from June 26-July
cellist and Artistic Director of the Silk Road Project
Yo-Yo Ma said that “The Silk Road is mostly remembered
as a string of fabled places — Samarkand, Nishapur,
Bukhara, Kashgar. For me, however, the Silk Road has always
been fundamentally a story about people, and how their
lives were enriched and transformed through meeting other
people who were at first strangers. By starting a conversation
and building shared trust, strangers could become allies,
partners, and friends, learning from one another along
the way and working creatively together.”
Washington, enter through one of these "sentinels
of arrival," or landmarks along the ancient Silk
Road and you’ll be in a different world:
Mark's Square in Venice
Sophia (Ayasofya) mosque/church/museum in Istanbul
Square in Samarkand
gate to Todaiji Temple in Nara
of these landmarks housed a stage that reflected a different
performance tradition. As you sat in “Istanbul Crossroads”
tent in those typically hot and humid summer days of Washington,
your five senses worked intensely. In addition to the
audio-visual feasts, the smells of cinnamon, roasted almonds
and curry could make you dizzy.
the tent, your day could start with Sufi ritual music
and dance with Alevi Semah of Hubyar, followed by the
music of Rajasthan. Then the Urhoy Choir would take you
to Assyrian Voices. Later, Shoghaken Ensemble could bring
folk music of Armenia to you. How about Bezmârâ:
Sounds from the Sultan’s Palace?
Cultural Association’s Alevi semah of Hubyar presented
a colorful performance. Their ritual started slowly with
sure steps. The Alevis were viewed with suspicion because
of their revolt against the Ottoman Sunni authority. Their
religious musical services are called cem. Accompanied by sung mystical poetry
and the instrument known as bağlama or saz (plucked folk lute with frets), its purpose
is not only spiritual. The ritual also serves to reinforce
social solidarity through teaching the doctrines of the
hands and arms symbolize birds. As the right hand is up,
the left one is down meaning what’s received from
God should be given to the people. As the tempo of the
music increases, their figures become more complex and
intense. Semah has been customary in nomadic societies’
religious rituals. In nomadic life, women and men played
and equal role in daily activities as in the religious
ceremonies. They were not separated by strict rules.
Whirling in semah symbolizes that nothing stands still
but moves and changes. A guitar and ney (an end-blown flute) duo called “Yansımalar” reflect the. Şenol Filiz,
a member of old Ottoman music ensemble
called Bezmârâ plays ney. Birol Yayla plays tanbur (a long-necked lute) and kopuz (a primitive stringed instrument) for
Bezmârâ. But when they are together as a duo
“Yansımalar,” a feast of alternative music combines ancient and
And Bezmârâ… What is it? The group explains
Bezmara ensemble, which specializes in early Ottoman music,
was founded in 1996 together with the launch of a musicological
project designed to revive the performance on early instruments
of compositions to be found in ancient manuscripts which
had up to then neglected by contemporary artists. Fikret
Karakaya was able to carry out this project thanks to
the support of the French Institute of Anatolian Studies
and with the help of the American musicologist, Walter
such as the ceng,
the Ottoman Court kopuz,
the metal-string kanun,
the pear shaped tanbur
and the cheeked ud,
which cannot be found either in museums or in private
collections, were reconstructed on the basis of miniature
paintings or written sources. Some of these instruments
had not been in use for three or four centuries. Furthermore,
there was no information on how they should be played.
Fikret Karakaya, who has been performing on the kemence for Istanbul [Public] Radio since 1982,
set about rediscovering the ancient techniques of performance
on the ceng. The famous tanbur player, Birol Yayla, succeeded in obtaining
an irreproachable sound on the kopuz; as these two instruments never co-existed,
he is able to play both the tanbur and kopuz in the ensemble. The performance style
of the distinguished ney player Senol Filiz made him an ideal interpreter of these works.
Serap Caglayan, who plays the modern kanun, quickly adapted to the sixteenth-century
metal-string kanun, Kemal Caba, a violinist with Istanbul [Public] Radio since
1982, soon acquired great technical competence on the
kemence. Osman Kirlikci, a performer on the ud for Istanbul [Public] Radio, quickly
got used to the sehrud.
kanun player Ihsan Ozer had already shown his
skill in santur.
On the other hand, it was only as the result of considerable
effort that the flautist Tugay Basar was able to master the miskal, an extremely difficult instrument. Mahinur
Ozustun, a performer on the kemence and also on the daire, is one of the ensemble's two percussionists.
Kamil Bilgin, who plays the nakkare, quickly assimilated the early rhythmic
patterns. As for the ud player Akgun Col, he experienced no difficulty at all in playing
the sixteenth-century ud.
The Bezmara ensemble, which performs the works noted by
Dimitrie Cantemir and which have not been heard for three
centuries, gave many concerts in 1998, among them being
one at the Palais de France in Istanbul and at the Topkapi
At the Silk Road Festival, Bezmârâ performed unique examples from the Ottoman music. Their style
was not a crowd-pleaser, but those “strange”
tunes have drawn a number of people out of curiosity.
friend told me that she didn’t know the Ottomans
had such a sophisticated form of music. Somebody else
was also surprised back in the 15th century.
American musicologue Walter Feldman tells us that story.
the 15th century, Sultan Bayezid II’s
son Korkut was governor of Amasya. Korkut was also a famed
musician. According to Ottoman sources, he had invented
a musical instrument called rûh-efzâ, a member of the tanbur family. One day, the Iranian ud virtuoso Zeyn al-Abidin was in Anatolia
and he visited court of Prince Korkut. Zeyn al-Abidin,
thought no Anatolian Turk could possibly be learned in
the Islamic art music tradition, which was then centered
in Iran and Central Asia. He played a simple folkloric
song for Korkut. Prince Korkut told him, “You have
behaved to me in accordance with the saying of the Prophet,
‘Speak to people according to the level of their
intelligence,’ since you think I am an ignoramus.
But I too have some skill in this art.” Then Korkut
brought out his rûh-efzâ lute and played a concert entirely of
his own composition. Zeyn al-Abidin confessed his embarrassment.
of us are unaware of the Ottoman sultans’ deep interest
in music. Nevertheless, Feldman gives us all the details.
To name a few, Bayezid II in 1400s; Murat IV in 1600s;
and Mahmud I, Abdulhamid I and Selim III in 1700s; Abdulaziz
in 1800s. They played various musical instruments, created
masterpiece compositions, patronized both Turkish and
Western music, sometimes blended the two.
late Ottoman ruler, Sultan Vahdeddin was involved in both
Ottoman and Western music. He played piano and kanun,
and also compiled a major collection of Turkish music
notations. Among his few compositions that survive today
is called Hicran ile dil (I am sick at heart with exile).
Silk Road, in Washington on the National Mall, stirred
our interest and opened a window to the world's riches.
As Yo-Yo Ma reflects, “Look deeply enough into any
one, and you'll find elements of others. Discovering what's
shared, and what can be appropriated, refined, and restyled,
is the essential work of cultural exchange and innovation.”
Yonca Poyraz Dogan works as an international broadcaster
at the Voice of America in Washington, www.amerikanansesi.com
Information from Bezmârâ CD's program notes.