FESTIVAL OF CHICHESTER: Mystic sounds

Mystic sounds of Alevi and Yarsan come to Chichester as part of this year’s Amici Concerts series within the Festival of Chichester. Mystic sounds of Alevi and Yarsan come to Chichester as part of this year’s Amici Concerts series within the Festival of Chichester.

Rare Kurdish Yarsan songs from Persia, reflecting a millennia-old pre-Islamic Sufi tradition, will be introduced alongside mystical Alevi and folk music from Turkey by vocalist Cigdem Aslan with Arash Moradi and Tahir Palali, using ancient instruments, tanbour, setar and kopuz (St Pancras Church, Eastgate Square, Chichester, Saturday, July 16, 7.30pm).

Cigdem, who is originally from Istanbul and is Kurdish and Alevi, explained: “Alevi people are considered a sect of Islam. It is a belief system influenced by many religions. There is no holy book, so all the teachings in the belief system are passed down from one generation to the next through the oral tradition. The music is one of the main elements to this cultural belief system. Alevi people get together in rituals. There don’t go to mosques. They have gatherings. During these gatherings at every stage is music. It starts with music and there is dance involved. There is usually a group of musicians who are accompanying a wise old person who passes on the teaching. He is not exactly a priest. What he is called translates as grandfather, but he is not exactly a grandfather. They are like old respected wise people. They are a bit like a preacher, and so the message is passed on.

“It was not written down initially, but in our modern times, it has all been documented. This would be mostly Turkey, but the Yarsan people in Iran are very similar to the Alevi people in Turkey. They are more or less the same people, but the language is slightly different.

“The character of the music, because its role is passing messages through, is quite repetitive. It is the lyrics that are important. I don’t know how to describe the music, but the poetry is the main importance.”

As Cigdem says, you don’t need any prior knowledge to appreciate it, though: “We are going to be translating the lyrics so that people can get into the music even more. We will also be singing some mystic love songs. We are singing Kurdish and Turkish songs. It is going to be three of us. We don’t have a name as a band. We have been performing a couple of times together, but we have not found the right name at the moment. We don’t want to rush it. We want to wait until we have a clearer picture of what it is that we are trying to do. But our main focus is to represent our culture. This really is the music that we have grown up with, music that is very dear to our hearts. Getting together and performing for an audience is very important to us. We are trying to make it as traditional as possible, but we want to add a little bit of salt and pepper to make it more approachable for our audiences so we are giving it a slightly more modern turn.”

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