'Sufi Music' in Turkey's music scene
Zeynep Güven Kalem Journal
That is why the value of music as music is inseparable from its human experience. Music, then, as a universal phenomenon, gets its meaning from culture because different cultures interpret it differently. When one chooses a music culture they are familiar with (classical, jazz, folk, punk, pop..etc.), they participate in musical communities, a particular population group whose composition is relatively stable. Audience then, turns into a cultural community, a group that carries the norms of a given musical form or genre. This complex relation between music, culture and society, which is an important topic in social sciences, needs to be explored in a comprehensive way. But to what extent does music reflect or represent identities, experiences, structures or social positions of social classes, strata, gendered or ethnic groups in a given society? Do certain genres correspond to a certain social group in Turkey? Is it possible to designate the level of relationship between the musician and the audience? According to which criteria do foundations and corporations in Turkey organize concerts and events? In this column, we will be trying to question and evaluate the uses and functions of music in Turkey.
Within the transformations of the postindustrial era, it is possible to observe the interlacing of different music genres and various cultural domains. The category of world music constitutes a controversial issue in Turkey as it consists of different sub-genres, forms and styles regarding its roots and its connection to the worldwide contemporary musical perceptions. The world music was thought to have been the musical pieces of a specific regional area composed and played by indigenous musicians. Its relatively pure and sterile dimension relating it to ethnomusicology and anthropology dissolves in the expanding spectrum of the 21st century. Different names such as ethnic, new age, international, tribal or chill out creates an inconsistency in the categorization of the so-called world music in music industry. Many albums that were being sold under different categories, which could be considered as world music, are not included in the ranks of worldwide pop charts. This fact relocates world music within the framework of non-western music. Thus, the term may be redefined as a genre, which stands outside the mainstream Western popular music, and originates mostly from outside the English speaking countries. However, it would be misleading to classify for example, Latin American music under the category of world music because Latin, as a popularized genre, has a shelf of its own in music markets. Likewise, Reggae music, having a story on its own, seems to stand out of the category of world music. Thus situated, employing the notion of authenticity is an important element in world music discourse. The success or failure of a particular record of, for example, Inuit music, Indian traditional music, Caribbean music or Icelandic music depends highly on this commodification of authenticity. So, what is the changing content and scope of world music in Turkey?
The increasing multiplicity of music industry in Turkey gradually gave rise to alternative fields in the rediscovery and presentation of world music. Today, Turkish world music reflects its historical and cultural affluence throughout centuries including Central Asian folk music, Byzantine music, Classical Ottoman music, Balkan music as well as regional and ethnic styles of Greek, Armenian, Jewish, Azeri music and many others. Among these enhancing styles within this rich music scene, it is possible to observe that Sufi music, one of the well-known genres within world music of Turkey, has come into prominence especially during the last decade. However, much of the world music nowadays is centered around the themes of globalization, and is closely associated with cosmopolitanism. Hereby, fusion, as a marketing term operating through the commodification of localness, authenticity and tradition, describes better the content, discourse and perception of this category in Turkey. Mercan Dede's use of Sufi music is a perfect example for this kind. Mercan Dede's album entitled "800", which was dedicated to Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi's 800th birthday, as well as his other works constitute an example of sufi-electronica fusion. Accordingly, he has been among the nominees in BBC awards for world music several times.
This innovative fusion, a sub-genre in world music, perfectly compatible with the humanistic perspective of Sufism with its many admirers and few critics brought this music worldwide recognition. However, Sufi music is one of the representations of a broader Sufi culture; an inner journey, an esoteric dimension of Islam, even a science for some followers whose objective is to incline towards God. It necessitates a full soul and body training throughout constant meditation and fulfilling mental experiences within a teacher-apprentice relationship. The positioning of its doctrine in one's life is an ongoing effort. With its theoretical perspectives and different branches, Sufism is a profound topic that has been analyzed by many scholars, musicians and intellectuals from different domains. Nonetheless, music, as an indispensable element of Sufism seems to be restricted to scientific studies and a limited art world, an underground music scene, so to speak, and needs to be presented to the worldwide music scope.
The Mevlevi order, whirling dervishes and the sama ceremony have already introduced the Sufi influence and the musical instrument ney to the global cultural domain. Apart from diverse interpretations and ritual practices, Sufi music refers to a solid genre. Therefore, some of the existing stereotypical images and some compilations loaded to exoticize Sufism do not seem to help to establish a veritable aesthetic form. There exists of course many neyzen (expert musicians on ney) such as Suleyman Erguner who incorporates its originality to the contemporary soundscape. Even so, the mystification of ney from tasavvuf literature seems to dissolve in some kind of a postmodern spirituality where musical themes are being translated into supposedly glocal marketable contexts under the name of world music.
Here, different mechanisms employ marketing strategies implying hybridity and amalgamation and make good use of multiple authenticities and identities of an era that can only be named with a "post-" prefix. As a result, the category of world music as a contemporary musical genre seems to be problematic, especially in an age when indigenous traditions in all parts of the world are being forced into a dynamic accommodation with Western popular music. For a standard audience, who gets bored with mainstream music and popularized underground genres such as punk or heavy-metal and searches for another alternative, world music seems to be a brand new opportunity. The case of Sufi music in Turkey, defined within the discourse of world music constitutes an example of how music can be located in the symbolic universe. That is why Sufi music can be reevaluated for targeting an international audience and recreating the musical imagery of Turkey. Within the global discourse, emphasizing the notion of locality, genuineness and originality may spread Turkey's own sound to the world. This effort in world music scope may also be a step to transform the unfamiliar other to the comprehensible forms in a broader cultural domain.