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Sounds From Anatolia

by Mehmet DEDE

Olcay Sesen (left) and Bora Yasar performed during the
Light Millennium's 3rd Anniversary Celebration at
Beyhan Karahan's loft in SOHO, New York on April 5, 2003.


“The morning wind spreads its fresh smell.
We must get up and take that in,
That wind that lets us live.
Breathe before it’s gone.”

-Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi
(1207 – 1273)

In an age when books by Sufi masters are outselling other poets, Sufism is attracting more people to mysticism, and world music is becoming widely accessible thanks to the proliferation of media and the Internet, we have more reasons to celebrate what Rumi called “that wind that lets us live.”

The above is the premise of Sounds From Anatolia. Composer/musician Bora Yasar and musician/vocalist Olcay Sesen formed Sounds From Anatolia to introduce the indigenous music of their ancestors to the world. The duo came together several years ago in Gaziantep, an ancient city in the South-East part of Turkey. They have since built a reputation in Turkey solely by touring. Aside from an EP tape that is long lost by now, they have not released any recorded material; the chief reason being the difficult task of transferring the aura of a live performance onto a disc. After relentlessly performing in Turkey, the duo has moved to New York in late 2002 to take on their biggest mission yet to date: To spread their music to the US.

Sounds From Anatolia utilizes classic scales and local instruments to create a fusion of modern day sounds that bear traditional forms of Classical Turkish, Folkloric and Sufi (Tasawwuf) music. These types of music are played in the Anatolian maqqam (mode system) and rhythmic cycles (usul) that give musicians more room to experiment. Accordingly, their live performances cover a wide range of styles from songs of mystical love (ghazel), hymn (ilahi) to solo improvisations in free rhythm (taksim) and music of the Ottoman court. By fusing this music with their own improvisational compositions, they become archivist of the traditional repertoire while molding old forms into a new form. In this regard, their music is not East meets West, but rather ancient meets today.

The group uses a variety of instruments to capture this unique sound. Bora went to school in different parts of Turkey (West, North and Central) where he was introduced to different sounds inherent to those regions. He mastered local and Middle Eastern instruments during these formative years while playing at family fests and gatherings along with local musicians. He plays classic and fretless guitar, tanbour (a long-necked plucked lute with frets), flute, and kopuz (a different kind of baglama with 3 strings). Olcay accompanies with the classic guitar.

Sounds From Anatolia have been influenced by a wide array of artists including Erkan Ogur (pioneer of the fretless guitar and a huge influence in the field), the Armenian duduk player Djivan Gasparyan, 13th century poet Yunus Emre who perpetuated the tradition of dervish lodge (tekke) and Goksel Baktagir. Their dream is to produce an opera that will cover the musical traditions and instruments of the different ethnicities, societies and tribes of Asia Minor throughout history from Greeks to Romans, from Ottomans to Armenians, Jews, and Kurds. 

The group took their evocative tones of acoustic Turkish instruments and delicate ornamentations on stage when they first performed in the US at the Palisades Park Library in NJ. Soothing and hypnotic, they provide both a pleasant listening experience and a window into a vanishing culture. Having completed their mission in Turkey, their next goal is to introduce to the people of America their heritage, their music; the Sounds From Anatolia.

- . -

E-mail: md443@nyu.edu

This issue is dedicated to the Peace Process of SRI LANKA & prominent Turkish author Yasar KEMAL

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