By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Poppish-Turkish Folk music

Reviewing the occasional live performances of Western (or other foreign} music by highly accomplished foreign musicians visiting New Delhi was a challenging task.  Guest musicians would hardly care for any critical opinion expressed about the quality of their music by foreign music critics, whose credentials they would be inclined to question (often quite legitimately). The reviews therefore tended to be concerned more with capturing the atmosphere and mood of the occasions rather than with making any technical or even artistic assessment of the actual merits of a performance.

So far as Western classical and folk music and jazz were concerned, I had many clear insights into their native environment and quality, thanks to my long experience of listening to crystal--clear trans-continental radio broadcasts and my self-taught knowledge of several European languages (apart from English, which I knew very well, like any other educated Indian). 

But when it came to the music of of many Asian or African countries, my ignorance far outweighed my knowledge, and I didn't have much to say usually in artistic terms.  Nevertheless, there were some occasions when I did get a clear insight into some significant aspect, and I could write something very sensible and useful.  The following review of a Poppish-Turkish folk music concert had a focus on the power of music to transcend language and cultural barriers, and cross-cultural experiments and encounters in music -- which are vital themes I've been exploring extensively and intensively ever since.

The Hindu, New Delhi
17 Oct. 1986

Folk music overcomes language barrier

The universal appeal of pop music was forcefully demonstrated some time ago by the marathon Live Aid concert, which was televised worldwide and led to the collection of fabulous amounts of money for flood relief in Africa.  In fact, so compelling is the current idiom , with its catchy tunes and rhythms and striking vocal and instrumental inflections, that even your grim and conservative lover of classical music is sometimes caught listening to pop music with pleasure.
Folk music too usually has a universal appeal, whatever may be the country of origin.  Folk songs by their very nature are simple and unsophisticated, and are not expected to have any intellectual refinement.  Therefore it is not really necessary to understand the meaning of the lyrics for enjoying folk music.  Moreover, the strange and unfamiliar language of foreign folk songs even lends a touch of mystery to the music, and adds to its appeal.  It was interesting to see how enthusiastically our folk music was received in France and the U.S. during the recent Festival of India organized there.

Turkish visitors

So then, take the folk music of a country, charge it heavily with an element of Western pop music, travel to a foreign country where your language is totally unfamiliar, and give a forceful recital in front of a large international gathering consisting of music-lovers of all types, ranging from Beethoven addicts to Boney-M fans -- and you are bound to make a sensational impact!  That is precisely what happened when Ms. Nukhet Duru and the Modern Folk Trio from Turkey gave an unusual recital last week in the FICCI auditorium in New Delhi, organized by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Turkish Embassy in the Capital.

Ms. Duru, who has a powerful voice and a dynamic singing style. has been acclaimed as the best pop singer in Turkey for  several years, and she seemed to be in her elements in the recital under review.  The Modern Folk Trio --  Selami Kara Ibrahimgil, Ahmet Kurtaran and Dagan Canku  --  also seemed to put their heart into their singing.  Apart from a solitary instrument called 'kanun' (which looks and sounds a little like our santoor),  the instrumentation was thoroughly pop-oriented.   Some of the numbers were simply described as pop, and others were said to be derived from Turkish folk songs and classical music. 
Most people in the audience naturally could not follow the meaning of the Turkish songs.  But it did not matter.  On the contrary, for that very reason the music acquired a highly exotic quality although it was presented in a familiar pop style.  The mix was a very effective one, and the audience responded vigorously, keeping time with their clapping whenever there was a chance.

The idea of the team to combine the folk and pop modes is obviously an admirable one, if exposure of Turkish music to the whole world is one of their main objectives (as seems to be the case, judging by the large number of tours they have undertaken to various countries in Europe, Asia and America).

Validity of venture

While the essence of folk music is its simplicity, it is by no means an insignificant art form.  To quote Cecil Sharp, the well-known authority on English folk-song:  ".... The unconscious music of the folk has all the hallmarks of fine art.... it is wholly free from the taint of manufacture, the canker of artificiality...."   Folk music invariably reflects some ingrained characteristics of a country's spirit, history and traditions, and it must therefore be preserved well for the future.

The important question which arises, then, is how far Ms. Nukhet Duru and her companions have modified Turkish folk music.  When integrating it with the Western pop style, have these musicians retained the purity of the folk music, or have they so substantially altered its character that its authentic quality has been reduced or lost?  Surely foreigners like us , who know nothing about Turkish classical or folk music, cannot legitimately offer an opinion on that point;  only music-lovers and critics in Turkey can find the correct answer.

This context, however, draws our attention to certain experiments which some of our own classical musicians have been making for some time now, either to integrate our two different major systems of classical music (Carnatic ands Hindustani), or to graft alien systems of music to ours.  It is necessary to consider how far they are justified in doing so, and in this case we Indians are the legitimate judges, and we must judge well....

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