Turkish musician Kudsi Erguner aims to bring the spiritual experience full circle

Kudsi Erguner’s concert in Abu Dhabi comes with a disclaimer. “I want to warn people that I refuse any compromise,” says the celebrated Turkish musician ahead of tonight’s open-air appearance at Mushrif Central Park. The second part of the evening’s entertainment will feature Erguner leading his musical ensemble and dancers through a traditional “whirling dervishes” […]

Kudsi Erguner’s concert in Abu Dhabi comes with a disclaimer.

“I want to warn people that I refuse any compromise,” says the celebrated Turkish musician ahead of tonight’s open-air appearance at Mushrif Central Park.

The second part of the evening’s entertainment will feature Erguner leading his musical ensemble and dancers through a traditional “whirling dervishes” display, the ancient spiritual ceremony of the Sufi Mevlevi Order.

But while the spectacle is often recreated for modern audiences in an accessible form designed to please the curious eyes of the casual observer, Erguner insists on performing the traditional devotional in full – a dynamic arc that runs for more than an hour.

“People say, ‘The beginning is very slow, can you speed this up, can we go directly to the fast bit?’ and I always refuse,” says Erguner.

“I will not do it. There is a long initiation part at the beginning, and I hope the audience in Abu Dhabi will share in it.”

Erguner is the latest high-profile artist to appear as part of the Umsiyat Series, which highlights world-music traditions and meaningful fusions from around the globe.

His show ticks both boxes – in addition to the traditional music that will accompany the whirling dervishes, the first half of the evening will feature a performance of Erguner’s acclaimed self-composed 2001 album, Islam Blues.

It’s an enchanting project he is reluctant to call “fusion” in the normal sense, placing his Turkish ney – a regional variation on the traditional wooden flute played in the Middle East for about 5,000 years – alongside percussion, chanted vocals, kanun, electric guitar and other instruments.

“I don’t consider it fusion – I’m playing from what’s inside myself,” says the 64-year-old.

“I come from a very deep tradition, but also I have some knowledge about western music and music from around the world. I assimilate all this, so this ‘fusion’ is the reality of my music, not something artificial.”

That project is just one of dozens Erguner has led or been involved in during a four-decade career that has placed his drifting ney melodies alongside musicians from Japan, India, Denmark, Iran, and France.

But despite all the cross-cultural work, Erguner’s roots remain firmly in the traditions of the past. Born in Diyarbakir, Turkey, in 1952, he was brought up in a long line of musicians, in a Mevlevi Sufi community still practising the infamous whirling dervishes ceremonies he has become famous for recreating.

“The traditional music is not something encouraged in the younger generations,” he says. “But my parents made me aware of this music from when I was very, very young – and the community was very, very proud of a young boy like me performing.”

These early experiences fuelled Erguner’s desire to devote much of his life to scholarly research of often-forgotten Ottoman music. In 1975, he moved to Paris, and at the beginning of the 1980s, he founded the Mevlana Institute, which is devoted to the study and teaching of classical Sufi music.

“I think we all need to have references,” he says, “because if you look at the western world, any musician who plays jazz or rock or pop always has a link to classical music – there’s always a background that gives sense to the new music.

“The problem for the modern Arab, Turkish and Persian music is that it always wants to do something new, without knowing the past.”

Despite his distaste for fusion, along the way Erguner has worked with notable western electronic-music pioneers include Jean Michel Jarre and William Orbit, and alongside visual mediums with choreographer Maurice Béjart and theatre director Peter Brook.

In 1987, Peter Gabriel invited Erguner to contribute to his influential soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ, an experience the Turkish musician has mixed feelings about, 30 years later.

“It’s an old story, but a very important story,” he says, “because in some ways it was the beginning of [what came to be known as] ‘world music’ – merging the music of different instruments coming from different parts of the world, with Anglo-Saxo pop, which became world music.

“There are some good and some bad parts of that – but you could say I was one of the pioneers from the beginning of this situation.”

• Kudsi Erguner performs at Mushrif Central Park tonight at 8pm. Tickets cost Dh50 (students Dh30) from <URL destination="http://www.ticketmaster.ae ">www.ticketmaster.ae

rgarratt@thenational.ae

Source: art & life

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