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A Turkish delight 14 octobre 2012

Posted by Acturca in Art-Culture, Istanbul, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Sunday Times (Malta) Sunday, October 14, 2012, p. 45

Michael Bugeja

Founded in 1999 by Yurdal Tokcan, Istanbul Sazendeleri is a community of musicians from Turkey – each of them specialising in a particular instrument, each of them a virtuoso in his own right – with the common aim of promoting Turkey’s musical heritage.

They keep this heritage alive not only by performing the music that has been passed down from generation to generation for several centuries, but also by seeking out new sounds that will perpetuate its presence in the modern-day culture of Turkish communities and beyond.


Istanbul Sazendeleri is Yurdal Tokcan (oud), Selim Guler (kemence), Goksel Baktagir (kanun), Emrullah Senguller (cello), Eyup Hamis (Ney) and Bulent Elmas (percussion).

In the years they have been active, Istanbul Sazendeleri, which essentially means ‘Istanbul instrumentalists’, have performed at countless international and domestic festivals. Featuring some of the most famous musicians in their homeland, they have toured all over the world – from the US and Canada to Japan, Israel, Qatar, India and most countries in Europe.

Their musical performances command a dedicated following that transcends race, creed and nationality. Despite their hectic schedule, however, this talented musical collective had never been to Malta; until now that is, as later this month, Istanbul Sazendeleri will be playing at the Manoel Theatre in Valletta, performing a versatile set that covers Turkey’s extensive cultural landscape by blending tradition and modernity.

Beyond the popularity of certain mainstream crossover ethnic-pop hits, Turkish music isn’t all that well-known with the Maltese but, says musicologist and researcher Andrew Alamango, “Turkey has an immensely rich cultural scene – there is so much to be discovered”.

The man who made Istanbul Sazendeleri’s performance in Malta possible, Alamango says he is particularly excited to see how the Maltese will react to their music.

In the past he has said the same of his Etnika and Malta’s Lost Voices projects and, given that both were successful in not only reviving the public’s interest but also preserving those important periods of Maltese culture, this bodes well for Istanbul Sazendeleri’s concert.

In order to better understand the significance of Istanbul Sazendeleri’s work, Alamango, who has been spending a lot of time in Istanbul studying the oud, a stringed instrument commonly used in Middle Eastern and North African music, says one must look deeper into how integral to Turkish culture music is.

“Regional, national and religious identities are all expressed through music,” he explains. “Because of this, there is a very strong educational system that passes on entire legacies of music – centuries of folk music dating back to the Ottomans that has been handed down from generation to generation.”

Being a large country with many minorities, it is hardly surprising that Turkey has so rich and so varied a cultural heritage. “And the beauty of it,” Alamango continues, “is that it is all easily accessible”.

He explains how, back in the 1950s, the Turkish government undertook a great task in collecting, documenting and thus preserving a massive collection of folk music, with at least 20,000 songs from the Ottoman period alone. “Incredibly, the folk music that has been gathered is all available online for free… and besides that, you can go into any record shop in Istanbul and find any Turkish music from 500 years ago up to the present day available to buy too.”

All of this certainly underlines the importance of music in Turkey’s culture, and if further proof was needed, it lies in the fact that the state heavily funds such endeavours too.

“The state actually supports the system by funding masters for each instrument,” Alamango continues. These masters all come from a lineage of masters and are considered as role models in society whose mission is to pass on their knowledge.

“It is somewhat linked to a Sufi philosophy in that they have the obligation to share the knowledge they themselves had inherited and cultivated further.”

Clearly quite taken by what he himself has learnt at the hands of the masters, Alamango elaborates on the differences between the modes that lie at the heart of Eastern music and the altered scales the West adopted.

“Istanbul has become an incredible source of modal music – it has retained this ancient tradition that the West discarded when the tempered scale was developed.”

He explains that the closest Western music comes to modal music nowadays is in jazz music which, he adds, “uses Western scales expressed in modes that give the music a highly aesthetic aspect.”

What is also interesting is the liberal ap­proach Turkish society, and that of Istanbul in particular, takes towards music. “You find all genres of modern music there – from rock to pop to jazz and more, but alongside there is the traditional music too,” Alamango points out.

“The result is that a lot of hybrid sounds instruments are being created and developed.”

And while this blending of ethnic nuances with contemporary and imported elements is part of what keeps culture alive, the traditional music of the past remains not only an important source of inspiration but a stand-alone attraction in itself, thanks largely to masterful musicians like Istanbul Sazendeleri who dedicate their lives to sharing it with us.

Istanbul Sazendeleri’s concert of Ottoman Court Music will be held on October 23 at the Manoel Theatre,Valletta, at 8pm. Tickets for the concert cost €10, €20 and €25; to book call 2124 6389.


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