6 March 2006

Went to see Turkish troubador Latif Bolat last night, part of the Edinburgh Festival of Middle East Spirituality. Playing to an audience of around 60-70 in a church in George IV Bridge, he began with an outline of the wandering troubador tradition, then some observations about the differences between European music and Eastern music. Both express a wide range of emotions, but European music does this mainly by polyphony – layers of simultaneous playing, which express emotion principally through harmony. The European tradition has a limited number of scales, 30 at most, with only a few of these used in most folk and classical music. Eastern music has no concept of harmony: it expresses emotion through single-line playing using different scales or modes (maqam) – over 300 of them in a typical musician’s repetoire, each aimed at different emotional qualities – subtle joy, abandoned joy, joy tinged with sadness etc.

Latif began his musical performance by handing out English translations of Sufi poems by Yunus Emre and Nessimi to members of the audience who volunteered to read them. He would improvise on his saz (a long-necked lute) then nod to one of them, who would come up and read, then he would go into a song, then, with a change of rhythm, repeat the process for another poem. After three or four poems and songs, a few seconds of silence and a brief talk about a song he’d done or was about to do. He asked for no applause, as it dissipates and discharges the power of the music, as well as the memory of the preceding song.

I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. The music was always accessible and full of variety, and Latif had an engaging presence. I’ve had a saz for several years, but haven’t had the opportunity to see it played properly.  I always find it hard to go out and leave my desk, computer and to-do list, and  I’m glad I did.  (http://www.latifbolat.com)

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