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Instruments bring together East, West in Istanbul

Troubadours from three different cultures will come together in Istanbul. Ethnomusicologist Ulaş Özdemir, mandola virtuoso and the latest representative of France’s troubadour tradition, Sam Karpienia, and Iranian-French tonbak master Bijan Chemirani will bring East and West together for two performances...

Troubadours have expressed their love, faith and quarrels to people for centuries, both in the East and the West. They have shown their feelings through the instruments of their own cultures. Some played bağlama in Anatolia, some played the mandola – an early type of mandolin – in the West, while in the Middle East they played the tonbak or tanbur. Even though instruments differed, the feelings motivating the music were the same, and the mass target was always ordinary people.

Although this centuries-old tradition is thought to have lost its importance in the modern world, troubadours continue to share their feelings with the same method, just like they did in the past. Ethnomusicologist and bağlama master Ulaş Özdemir studied the folk poet tradition in Anatolia and then decided to host a different kind of performance in Istanbul. The bağlama is a stringed musical instrument shared by cultures across the eastern Mediterranean, Near East and Central Asia.

During a workshop in Marseille last year, Özdemir met French musician Sam Karpiena, who played a fretted, stringed madola, and Iranian-French musician Bijan Chemirani. He then decided to bring together music from East and West.

He invited the musicians to Istanbul to organize a performance, and they accepted. The three artists will take the stage on June 17 at 8 p.m. at the French Culture Center in Taksim and on June 18 at 8:30 p.m. at the Nazım Hikmet Culture House on Kadıköy’s Bahariye Street.

Stressing parallelism in three cultures

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, Özdemir said organizing such a concert in Istanbul made him very happy. “Just like in the tradition of troubadours, we will have a mutual battle of words on the stage through our verses and instruments.” When asked about the battle of words, Özdemir said: “This is a tradition from centuries ago. Troubadours sing impromptu and the other troubadour answers him through his instrument and verses in the same way.”

He said the performance would be very lively. “Viewers will find many things about themselves in this performance. They will have a journey to their inner world. As artists from three different cultures, our goal is to highlight the parallelism among our cultures.”

Istanbul common theme of the performance

Özdemir said French artist Karpienia was the latest representative of the troubadour tradition in his country. He said troubadour meant “musical poet of the Middle Ages.”

“We have tried to find poems and a theme in common for the performance in Istanbul,” he said. “The tradition of troubadour and the development of public poetry in Anatolia were in the same period. We will try to show this similarity to audiences through verses, instruments, sounds and vocals.”

Özdemir said he was a member of an Alevi family. “I began to be interested in bağlama tradition and stringed instruments when I was a child. The most important reason is that I grew up in an Alevi family. Music became a part of my life from an early age.”

- Vercihan Ziflioğlu