Aynur Inspires You to Join the Resistance

Aynur Doğan is a controversial Kurdish singer from Turkey whose “offense,” in the eyes of some Turks, is that she is Turkish but sings songs in the Kurdish language. Born in 1975 in Cemisgezek, a small town in the southeastern mountains of Turkey, Aynur and her family moved to Istanbul to avoid the struggles in their town between the Turkish Army and the Kurdish resistance. The Turkish government’s loosening restrictions on public use of the Kurdish language in 2004 gave Aynur the opportunity to not only perform but to rise to stardom. She has since been an outspoken advocate for the Kurdish people and their right to make art their own language. In this video Aynur Doğan performs “Keçe Kurdan” (“Kurdish Girl”),” from her album of the same name, which a court in southeastern Turkey banned briefly in 2005, fearing that its lyrics would incite Turkish women to abandon their partners and go to the mountains to join the Kurdish resistance. 

Orhan Gencebay and…Bubbles?

Orhan Gencebay is one of the giants of the Turkish entertainment industry. In his monumental career Orhan Gencebay has been the lead actor in almost 40 movies, composed an estimated thousand songs and sold over 65 million records — watch this video and you’ll sure get why. Musically, Gencebay pioneered a multifaceted mix of international sounds from Turkey. Wikipedia describes the genre like this: “During the 1970s [Gencebay] released many singles in a new genre that is a fusion of traditional Turkish Folk music, Turkish classical music, Western classical music, jazz, rock, country, progressive, psychedelic, Indian, Arabic, Spanish, and Greek music styles.” Rather than call this new genre “Turko-folko-clasico-jazzy-
rocky-country-prog-psych-Indi-Arab-Spania-Greek” music, musicologists termed it “Arabesque.” Gencebay didn’t like this categorization because it initially implied that he stole his songs from Arabic music he heard on the radio, but the term “Arabesque” has since grown to become synonymous with Turkish music about heartache, longing and even deep suffering. In that way, Arabesque is the Turkish equivalent of the blues.

Turkey — “East Meets West” meets Awesome

All Around This World -- Turkey
This week in our online class we travel to Turkey, where we try to avoid the most simple analysis of the utterly complex nation — that Turkey is a place where “East meets West.” Turkey does claim geography in two continents, but only 3% of the land is in Europe while the rest is in Asia. Most everywhere in Turkey, other than in its main cities, the culture and customs borrow much from Eastern, especially Islamic, influences. Turkey is one of the most consciously secularist states in the world, and while Turkey’s public institutions such its modern constitution functionally separate Church from State, 99% of Turks are Muslim (mostly Sunni). Also, while Turkey has long sought to become a formal part of the European Union, progress toward what is called “accession” is complicated not only by prevailing European powers’ public and private attitudes toward Islam, but also by increasing Turkish skepticism about the motives of the E.U. Turkey is an extraordinary mix of many strains of history, ethnicity, religion and culture, and that makes it an utterly worthwhile place to visit…but simple it is not.

Raquy Dominates the Darbuka

Raquy dominates the Darbuka.

The darbuka is a “goblet drum,” a hand drum with a head shaped like a circle that’s wider than the middle of its long, thin body. Arabic musicians have been playing darbuka for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. While the powerful West African djembe is its close cousin, the player of a darbuka uses more fingers, feeling and finesse. Let’s watch this video of darbuka master Raquy Danziger making it so.


Kickin’ it with a Kamancheh

Negar Kharkan really knows how to play that Kamancheh.

The kamancheh is an ancient Persian/Iranian string instrument, one that you may have really enjoyed playing if you were a Persian hipster alive during the Safavid or Qajar periods — i.e. a long time ago. A kamancheh player uses a bow to elicit a lovely tone from three (sometimes four) strings. There are  variants of the instrument all over Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia and all around Central Asia, each with its own slightly different structure and distinct musical vibe. Let’s enjoy this video of Persian virtuoso Negar Kharkan making the kamancheh sing.

A Short-Necked Lute with a Long History

The Middle Eastern oud, a stunning stringed instrument, is at the core of traditional ensembles all around West Asia. Potentially derived from the Persian “barbat” and other stringed lutes going back over a thousand years, the oud differs from other stringed instruments because it has no frets — dividers on the “neck” of a stringed instrument that allow a musician to make clearly differentiated notes ring separately. A Middle Eastern oud player can place his or her fingers on the neck to either play a clearly delineated tone, one that corresponds with a note on the major or minor scale, or can press the strings to the fretboard in between distinct notes, making “quarter tones.” This makes the oud a perfect match for Arabic, Persian and other West Asian musics, which gain so much of their strength from the tones between the tones. In this video we enjoy a performance by, as the YouTube description says, “the first girl graduated as a soloist represent[ing] Egypt in the Arab Oud House and the third graduate of the Arab Oud House.” Does the YouTube description say let us know her name? Nah.


We say Salam, Shalom, Merhaba and more to the Middle East

All Around This World West Asia and the Middle East "Everywhere Map"
Welcome, friends, to a particularly fascinating season of All Around This World online classes for kids. Over the next several months we’re going to explore the Middle East and West Asia, enjoying so many musics and cultures from around the region. There is not one unified “West Asian” or “Middle Eastern” music, but rather a constellation of different musics from the region that overlap in structure, tone and rhythm, from ancient Persian Sufi music and Arabic classical music, to more modern styles like the Turkish, Arab-influenced “Arabesque” and Egypt’s “generational” music, al-jeel. We’ll be singing songs from countries that stretch from Egypt in the West to easternmost Iran, from the top of Turkey to Yemen’s southern tip, in the process crossing the whole of Israel/Palestine and the Levant. Over the next three months we’ll be dancing the dabke, singing Azeri love songs and celebrating the heck out of Nowruz.