Day four of the Fes Festival of Sufi Culture began with a distinctly Turkish flavour - an interesting introduction to Turkish Sufism by Kudsi Erguner. The evening ended with high-octane Samaà
The Morning Round Table
The morning session featured talks by Roderick Grierson and Kudsi Erguner. While Grierson spoke about the history of Western representations of the Mevlevi, Erguner gave the audience an insider's look at Sufism in Turkey. Festival organiser Abdullah Wasani, and visiting theologian Mestaoui Mohamed Slaheddine from Tunisia, also spoke. The discussions were interrupted by Salah Stetié who was leaving for Paris. He thanked the festival for “shining a light in the night of the world.”
|Photo Priam Thomas|
It was great to hear Kudsi Erguner speak about his personal experience with Sufism in Turkey. With humour and wit, the master ney player described how in the 20th century Turkey had largely abandoned its Mevlevi traditions in a process of modernisation and westernisation. By the 1950s, Sufi tradition was reduced to a small community where things happened privately. He said at this point there were probably only about 700 active Sufis in Istanbul.
In 1955, American delegates came to Turkey on a humanitarian and cultural mission, and asked about the dervishes. An attempt was made to quickly gather some dervishes together for an enactment of the Samaà. Erguner described a mad dash to sew new outfits, and transport dervishes to Istanbul. Slowly, over the next two decades, Sufi musicians and Semazens began to be invited to France, England and North America to perform. They found more encouragement abroad than in their own country, but they also began to encounter something unexpected: western followers of Sufism.
|Kudsi Erguner - Photo Priam Thomas|
Erguner talked about his experience travelling and meeting people as a musician. He contrasted different western attitudes towards the Mevlevi, from “Exo-tourisme,” a kind of spectacle of the exotic, to more earnest appreciation. He criticized the trend of people looking to academics and foreign experts to learn about Sufism. Such approaches, he argued, tend to focus on the details of how Samaà is performed, without understanding the spirit and reasons why things are done the way they are. He explained that the Samaà occurs out of religious conviction and joy. Its not a performance for an audience, but rather a ritual for the participants. In the moment of ecstasy, worldly attachments are stripped away so that performers can focus on God. “It is not a dance to forget things, it is a dance to remind us . . . a reminder of truth,” he said.
Afternoon Round Table
"Rumi and the Mevlevi - ecstatic poetry" was the focus of the 4pm session at the Batha Museum.
The music of samaà's like a windowThe afternoon session was in English which meant that headphones and translations where not needed for a majority of the audience.
That lends access to your garden.
The lovers lay their ear and heart
Upon its sill to hear one not.
The window is - alas - one grand veil,
Although this veil's all sweet delight
- go, my noble friend and keep silent.
Leonard Lewisohn from the University of Exeter said that speaking about Sufism is less important than listening to the music. The true experience is a "mystical bacchanalia" in which God is symbolised by wine on which the devotee gets drunk in order to enter an existence of rapture.
Whoever's not intoxicated by the Sufi concert
Is just a recreant although he may profess belief.
But one who knows the taste and lore of wine,
Call him intelligent - don't say he's just a barman.
The Charqawiyya are a branch of the Shadhiliyya, a North African order out of which many of the present day Moroccan Sufi brotherhoods have sprung. The Charqawiyya are in actuality an offshoot of a prior order annexed from the Shadhiliyya, namely the Jazuliyya, and take their name from Muhammad al-Sharqi (d.1601), a descendent of the 2nd caliph, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. Sometimes the Charqawiyya are known by the full name: Charqawiyya Jazuliyya-Shadhiliyya.
Based historically in Boujad, a Moroccan town bordering the Atlas mountains, they are known for their political activism, beginning in the 17th Century with their support for Sultan Moulay al-Rashid (d.1672), the founder of the ‘Alaouite dynasty of Moroccan kings, which still rules to this day.
The undulating a capella harmonies of the thirteen in the Tariqa Charqawiyya were, like old friends returning, warmly welcomed on yet another gloriously balmy evening in Fez. The slightly below capacity crowd were treated to an exuberant taste of joy and high energy Sufi music that was as infectious as it was uplifting.
The display of contagious enthusiasm had the audience captivated and engaged. To their delight the Tariqa started up tempo and never let up. It was almost impossible not to be carried along by the tsunami of sound.
The Charqawiyya were aided by a single percussionist who drove the music along with a simple box drum. The only other accompaniment to the pulsing a cappella was the clapping of hands, first by the ensemble, and then as the audience joined in.
|Feeling the Baraka - Photo Priam Thomas|
The high voltage energy was such that the crowd rose to their feet and moved forward onto the carpeted area in front of the stage. It was a credit to the Head of Security, Ashraf, that the scene was controlled by his simple hand gestures. He obviously knew from past experience, that it hard to keep a Moroccan audience from immersing themselves in the ecstasy and so instead of holding it back he facilitated it in a friendly manner.
The audience were slightly diverted at one stage by the arrival of an individual dressed as some ancient oriental potentate (pictured above). He came through the crowd, paused to be photographed and was then escorted on his way.
|A little blessing - a little rose water|
The overwhelmingly Moroccan audience, knew the songs, knew the lyrics and applauded the Tariqa for delivering what they had come to hear. It was an evening of shared joy.
Photos and text: Priam Thomas and Sandy McCutcheon
Tomorrow's Programme at the Batha Museum:
10am Round Table The religion of love
4pm Round Table Focus on Rabiaa.
8.30pm Concert of samaà by the Tariqa Rissouniyya
Wednesday's weather: Sunny. Top temperature 25 Celsius. Minimum 13.
See other Festival reports
Sufi Festival ~ Day One
Sufi Festival - Day Two
Sufi Festival ~ Day Three
Sufi Festival ~ Day Four
Sufi Festival ~ Day Five
Sufi Festival ~ Day Six
Sufi Festival ~ Day Seven
Sufi Festival ~ Day Eight