Monday, April 20, 2015

Fes Festival of Sufi Culture ~ Day Three

Day Three of the Fes Sufi Festival began with mystical Persian poetry and ended with Mevlevi music for the ney

Rumi - the poet of love

Morning Round Table

The morning panel examined how ideas about spiritual love in the Quran and Hadiths influenced Persian mystical poetry. While there was also a brief presentation by Saida Bennani on the contemporary writing of Muhammad Iqbal, it was Leonard Lewisohn's scholarship on “The Religion of Love,” and ensuing discussion that stole the show.

Lewisohn is a professor at the University of Exeter's Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies. Quoting examples of Hadiths, he argued that in the founding texts of Islam, “all of existence is an erotic interplay between God and man.” In essence, God creates human beings in order to reveal the beauty of his love, and human beings worship God by finding beauty in the things he has created.

Lewisohn explained that, “because God is beyond form, we need a form to worship him.” People and things are therefore understood in this tradition to be merely the incarnations or containers of a greater divine beauty. These vessels could include the person we build our life with, or even beautiful faces glimpsed briefly in passing on the street.

From a Western perspective, we tend to think about love in a romantic sense as a search for a specific individual with particular qualities. We may question, “why does this person deserve our love?” whether it's a life partner, or a stranger. Sufism instead promotes an attitude of love that is largely unconditional and non-possessive. Love of people and things in the world serve to direct the heart upward and outward toward the divine. The stages of religious love also involve suffering, tragedy and yearning. Salah Stetié commented that the presentation neglected these elements. However there was a lot of ground to cover in a short time.

Lewisohn - "God is beyond form"

The audience responded passionately to Lewisohn's presentation, applying it to present day issues in their questions and responses. They invited Lewisohn to tackle the subject Islamic extremism. He responded that radical Islam obfuscates the religion's tradition of love through its intolerance of art and philosophy, the mediums through which the original interpretations of Hadiths have been passed down. He argued that the wealth of these concepts of love belong not just to Sufism, but to the shared heritage of Islamic religion and culture more generally.

Aziz Eddebbarh

Aziz Eddebbarh, a visiting Imam, argued that there needs to be a festival of Sufi Culture in North America to help spread these humanist ideas, especially to the youth. Others asked about how the importance of love as a core value of Islam could be put into practice, and brought to the attention of the greater public.

The head of Fez's Rumi Institute reminded people that promoting these ideas is precisely the purpose of the Festival of Sufi Culture. He reminded those in attendance that, “it's good to say with force that there are people working to do good things, rather than to always focus on the negative.”

Program change for Afternoon Round Table

While the small audience were anticipating ney player, Kudsi Erguner to discuss the Mevlevi music for the ney, Festival Director Faouzi Skali explained that Kudsi had decided that doing an extended talk and then a concert was too much. A sensible decision.

In a deft piece of program swapping, the Festival presented the Persian Sufi scholar, Jane Lewisohn who had been scheduled for tomorrow. Kudsi Erguner will speak at the round table tomorrow morning.

"Let me explain about Soufism..."

As the audience waited for the session to begin, one youngster provided a moment of delight, by ignoring security and making herself at home with the microphone on stage.

Jane Lewisohn with Faouzi Skali

Unfortunately, Jane Lewisohn's presentation relied on slides, and there was no adequate medium to show them. Instead of a wide screen, there was a small TV screen, partially washed out by sunshine at the beginning. It was only visible to a small section of the audience.

Thankfully, the sound of the accompanying music was fine but neither the venue nor the technology were appropriate for the presentation.

Ms Lewisohn gave an interesting and erudite commentary, illustrating the Persian Sufi traditions. She pointed out that Rumi is very much alive for Iranians and that over the centuries the Persian language has not changed like other languages. As she pointed out, a child in Iran would understand every word of a Rumi poem. Whereas a French poem of the same era would only be intelligible to a modern scholar.

In an interesting analogy she compared Sufi practise as "polishing the mirror of the heart" but a performance in a Sufi gathering is "sandblasting".

The audience appreciated that Lewisohn had taken the trouble of printing out translations of some of the Persian poetry.

Let go all your scheming, lover
let yourself go mad
go mad
just step into the heart of the fire
make yourself a moth
a moth - Divan-i Shans Ghazal 1944

Evening Concert

Photo: Priam Thomas

The evening concert by the Kudsi Erguner Ensemble from Turkey was a superb example of just how sublime divine music can be and how it only takes three master musicians to transport an audience.

The recital began gently with an introduction on the kanun before Kudsi Erguner brought the ney to his lips. The sound was more breathy and ephemeral than that of a Western flute, reminiscent of a Japanese shakuhachi in the hands of a master musician like Riley Lee. Yet, when Erguner reached effortlessly up the octaves, the sound produced was as pure as molten silver.

As the first piece progressed the large frame drum came into play giving a solid base heart beat. Further on the tempo increased and the three instrumentalists shared a more playful few passages with the ney and the virtuosic kanun player swapping phrases or providing a counterpoint to each other. Then, with the music reaching full speed, they galloped to the end of the piece like three horses gratefully heading for home.

Erguner, speaking in French to the audience, proved he was a master not only of the ney, but also a man with a gift for gentle communication.
"In reality Sufi music does not exist but there are Sufis who listen to music.  Music is not entertainment but food for the soul" ~ Kudsi Erguner

There was a variety to the music with pieces from the traditional Turkish Mevlevi repertoire through to a delightful Iranian maqam.

Given the stature of Kudsi Erguner it would have been easy for him to dominate the ensemble. But this was not the case as the brilliant kanun player was masterful on his instrument as was the percussionist whose work on the drum and frame drum was outstanding.

The concert, attended by a smaller crowd than the previous nights, was a meditation on the divine and the audience sat quietly while the melodic music flowed over and around them or swooped above the majestic Barbary oak.

Photo: Priam Thomas

The trio received a standing ovation and, after sustained applause, generously returned for an encore. A splendid concert on a perfect night in Fez.

Seen in the Audience ~ Frédéric Calmès, Musical Director of the Fes Hamadcha Sufi Brotherhood

A little background - Kudsi Erguner

The Turkish musician, Kudsi Erguner was born 4 February 1952 in Diyarbakır, Turkey. He is considered a master of traditional Mevlevi Sufi music and is one of the worlds best-known players of the Turkish ney flute.

The ney (Persian: نی / نای‎), is an end-blown flute that figures prominently in Middle Eastern music. In some of these musical traditions, it is the only wind instrument used. The ney has been played continuously for 4,500–5,000 years, making it one of the oldest musical instruments still in use.

The Persian ney consists of a hollow cylinder with finger-holes. Sometimes a brass or plastic mouthpiece is placed at the top to protect the wood from damage, but this plays no role in the sound production. The ney consists of a piece of hollow cane or reed with five or six finger holes and one thumb hole. Modern neys may be made instead of metal or plastic tubing. The pitch of the ney varies depending on the region and the finger arrangement. A highly skilled ney player, called neyzen, can reach more than three octaves, though it is more common to have several "helper" neys to cover different pitch ranges or to facilitate playing technically difficult passages.

As a boy, Erguner studied with his father Ulvi Erguner and attended the Sema of the Mevlevi-Sufi tradition along with other Dervish ceremonies. He started his musical career in Istanbul Radio in 1969. For several decades, he has researched the earliest roots of Ottoman music which he has also taught, performed and recorded.

In the seventies Erguner moved to Paris where, at the beginning of the eighties, he founded the Mevlana Institute devoted to the study and teaching of classical Sufi music. Together with the Kudsi Erguner Ensemble he developed deep insights into the diversity of his culture: the group conveys both authentic, often improvised forms of expression of classical Ottoman performance culture as well as a comprehensive repertoire of modern and classical pieces that can be traced back to the 13th century.

Photos and text: Priam Thomas and Sandy McCutcheon

Tomorrow's Programme at the Batha Museum

10am       *Round Table "Listen to the ney" Mevlevi music and visions - with Kudsi Erguner
4pm          Round Table Rumi and Mevlevi music - ecstatic poetry.
8.30pm     Concert of samaà by the Tariqa Charqawiyya>

Tuesday's weather: Sunny. Top temperature 26 Celsius. Minimum 14.

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

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