In March, several facebook friends and myself have created an event – in a Turkish tradition (I was the only representative of Turkey, so to speak): Aşıklar Bayramı, a.k.a. Aşıklar Atışması.
Aşıklar is the plural of “aşık” to which the Turkish language lends two meanings: lover and the one who is in love with a married person. In the context of the tradition I mention here, however, the word identifies a “minstrel.” It is all about composing poetry (in any format) on cue but to accompany it with a musical creation, also on cue, and by the contestant poets, at that (in Turkey, they have to know how to play “saz” – one of the most popular Turkish folk music instruments).
Hmm. Trouble, right? How on earth can a group of non-Turkish innocent bystanders (!) collaborate – online of all the places – to recreate the Minstrels’ Festival or Minstrels’ Cross-Talk of Turkey, not knowing how to play “saz” (myself included)? Well, we have improvised, of course, and thanks to the most delightful participants’ generosity as far as giving their time and attention, the event was quite an accomplishment. All participants and hosts enjoyed the outcome so much that I want to share with you what we have done. Amid the hustle and bustle we all have to do day in and day out, maybe this unusually pleasant memory of ours will also give you a reason to take a fresh breath of air for a change. Especially, if you picture yourselves in a land of sunshine, in a large hall filled with much laughter from all ages because of much good-willed teasing that goes on before each competition. Imagine then poets taking you into their imagined realities wrapping them up in colorful musical compositions – all unrehearsed. Perhaps, the way we all should be living life at least on one occasion or two…
At the time of our facebook event, we provided our guests with some background information on this tradition that for centuries has enriched life in Anatolia, taking place in different regions of today’s Turkey. I will give you the same insights here, including the legendary folk song by Aşık Veysel Şatıroğlu (1894-1973) – the icon of the Turkish Aşık Minstrel Poetry tradition:
When we come forward several decades to a contemporary Turkish society, we mostly observe, as in the video below, the traditional “only men” gathering. The first “Aşık” – with the respectful selection (a required step) of his co-poets – begins composing his couplets on the spot. He happens to select a rather sore topic in cheerful and loving words and mannerism (also required): balding. Please help yourselves with the video for a few seconds to participate in the uplifting mood of the minstrels but also of the audience members. Smiles all around! (Who needs to understand the language of the program?)
The following live coverage presents a new tradition in Turkey, an initiative by women who either self-taught to play the “Saz” – a necessity, or learned it from the masters to now voice their views on life matters. A few seconds (or more) of a fun experience on an untraveled path, where one woman sings and plays the required instrument in competition with her male counterparts! (Once again: no need to understand the language of focus. The feel is real and there to breathe in, isn’t it?)
Mixed with interviews, the video program below, then, gives a deeper insight into the transformation of the same ancient folk poetry tradition in the hands of Turkey’s female minstrels. (To a peaceful union between the genders – poets and non-poets alike!)
What did we do on facebook at the time of our event to unite several people from various parts of the world? We asked them to spontaneously compose poetry after listening to a melodic prompt of our impromptu posting – for which we used ethnic traditional music. Whoever posted his/her couplet first, had the lead, which meant for the next poet to harmonize with the poetic mood, symbolism, diction, etc. of the preceding poetic lines – just like in the Aşık tradition. Then, the next poet would honor the same established poetic composition, add to it his/her couplet, and so on. Some comments about this experience included “fun, yummy, delicious, lovely, inspiring.”
The final product comes to you as it was created on cue, in its unedited, unrevised version. The music prompt came from an African Music Compilation and the couplets were created in the following order (only the font style and size were modified and capitalization was added for the uniform external appearance):
Raindrops falling on drum tops.
When I dance to it my sadness stops.
The heartbeat of each creature is
The music of nature…
As if let loose from shackles my spirit filled with joy
When the beating of the drum reach my eardrum
I- wind rushing
Breathe- soul brushing
With- consuming fires
Desire- fingerless lyres
Like a waterfall?
Body turns into fountain sweat drops
Quenching the heat of passion
Moving for all time
Marking out rhythms and rhymes
Unconscious of ebbs and flows
Here doing only what it knows.
A canvas of fire I see
A sky burning for me
A singe atop of my skin
A grace thermal within
The sun shines brightly through the rain.
Traditionally, a hyena is born in Spain
The scorching sun blowing the breeze of comfort
Was told a lion just take to bed just in Spain without pain
One of our dear hosts, Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom, an accomplished poet and the author of The Light Bearer also composed verses (his impeccable talent should not be overlooked here – although, as he said during our event, “I did write something, being a host forbids…”). With his couplet, dearest Kolade embraced everyone’s work with his own right at the end, when parting started feeling rather cold:
The sun buries its head
As sleep lures me to bed
Hearing the sounds of a gong
A rhythmic melodious song….
My inspiration to conceive such an event was my utterly close familiarization with the humanist teachings of Rumi through my academic studies that now span over multiple decades.
The call this Anatolian Sufi poet makes to humanity in his following stanza seems timeless to me, especially in our century when the storms of divisiveness keep causing complete destructions. Rumi invites all to unite instead:
Come, come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come!
Come even if you broke your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are.
(As quoted in Turkey: A Primary Source Cultural Guide, 2004 by Martha Kneib)
Rumi’s philosophy of peace and love in the front of my mind, as always, the words by the Russian-American linguist and literary theorist, Roman Jakobson (1896-1982), then, had appealed to me as a most befitting framework:
“In poetic language, in which the sign as such takes an autonomous value, this sound symbolism becomes an actual factor and creates a sort of accompaniment to the signified.”
My guided interest had been taking me over and over to the key words present in the Jakobson statement: “the sign, sound symbolism” and “accompaniment to the signified” – of course, with me interpreting them in the way I needed and wanted to shape them. And then, another dear facebook friend presented us right before our event had begun – without knowing – the most critical sign I had been looking for. If a poeto-musical event could bring together people who don’t know each other outside a social media platform we all tend to assess as being fully impersonal, imagine what human interaction can take place, were such efforts to be multiplying all over the world…
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Whether through music, poetry or any other joyous aspect of life’s gifts, may you always connect to and harmonize with an unknown soul despite our learned or too often forced disparate realms. May you on this Sunday and on many more days to come ‘cuddle’ with any and all differences that only on the surface separate us from one another.