Tag Archives: Sufi music

Dawn Avery: Performance as Prayer

Dawn Avery – Photo by Deborah Martin

In Dawn Avery’s recent album “Beloved,” her voice is strong and determined. Her songs are often slow and thoughtful. Her cello traces graceful circles around a guitar and a Persian tar – a stringed instrument similar to a sitar. The daf, a Kurdish frame drum, provides a steady, low, underlying rhythm. Gentle waves wash over the listener.  The music is a synthesis of her many musical experiences.  She has worked with Philip Glass, Sting, and many other stars.  Her music has echoes of Glass’s compositions. It is cyclical – it pulls listeners in and moves them into a meditative space. 

Dawn Avery – Beloved

“Beloved,” is Dawn’s embrace of her Mohawk heritage and her study of Sufism. Her music explores the Sufi theme of longing for the divine. On the track, “Night and Day” we hear Rūmī’s words:

I am dazed at the thought of you,
night and day.
I will place my head at your feet,
night and day.

Dawn is no newcomer to music. Her father, Chris Bukholz, a jazz drummer, played in the Lennie Tristano trio. She often fell asleep on his lap to the sound of Bebop, which she learned to love.  Dawn is a vocalist, cellist – she studied the instrument at the Manhattan School of Music, a composer, and a professor of world music at Montgomery College, Maryland. In conversation, she has not let this strong musical background go to her head. She is warm, down to earth, and brings fresh insights into her music.

DJL: Did your father’s approach to music inspire your own?

DA: My dad’s love of Bebop and old jazz meant it was always playing in the house. There was a reverence when Billie Holiday was played. We were taught to be quiet, listen, stay still. His listening discipline as well as his intelligence in analyzing both the technical elements and musical message of various styles of music affected me greatly. He never missed a day of practicing!  His interest in world cultures, religions, and art sparked my pursuits. His Mohawk heritage allowed me to pursue our culture in ways he was unable.

DJL: Your father played with Lennie Tristano. Tristano was an original composer. Did his music and composing influence yours?

DA: Tristano’s use of counterpoint, advanced chromatic harmonies, some avant-garde melodic passages, along with his attention to great technical and rhythmic detail, influenced my playing and composition. The attention to discipline in practice habits, performance, and listening to music, influenced how I grew up as a musician.

Dawn Avery – Photo by Deborah Martin

DJL: What are some early memories of playing music?

DA:  Piano was my first instrument. I was serious about it. At 16, I played at Carnegie Hall. When I later started playing cello, I got to play Beethoven’s Fifth in the center of a big orchestra, in the middle of all that vibration.  It amazed me. It reminded me of being in the Longhouse.

DJL: Is the drum at the center of the Longhouse?

DA:  In the Longhouse, rattles are the pulse of the music.  But you are right, the rattle has a drumming aspect to it. It has a large vibration about it.

DJL: Why did you choose the cello?  It has a female shape?

DA: Yes, a very sensual instrument. The elementary school cello teacher would not let me play any another instrument, so I played cello, but was more serious about the piano until I was seventeen. I thought the cello would be less of a solo instrument and enable me to play in diverse musical styles.  I like that the cello sounds as a human voice at times.  It has a big range, at the lower range you can play the blues, higher up classical music.  And when you hold it to your body, you get a certain feeling from the instrument.

DJL: Why is it important to you to preserve Native American music?

DA:  I first worked on reissuing some older music: Mike Jock and the Big Bear Singers.  In Mohawk language there is a word Non:wa that means now.  We have a different understanding of now, the past is very much a part of our present. 

Preserving these traditions is a way of keeping our heritage strong and alive and of healing mother earth for all peoples.  I formed the Native Composers Project and we invited people to compose songs in their Native languages as a way of preserving them and bringing them into the present. 

DJL: What are the connections between Native American music and Sufi music?

DA:  Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Sufi master, wrote, “The beauty of music is that it is the source of creation.” As a woman of Kanienkéha, Mohawk heritage, and a student of Sufism, I am aware of the vibrations in the world around me as the source of creation from first breath to the sounds of nature. Whether in the Mohawk Longhouse or in the Sufi Sema traditions, I sing to all of creation and strive to live in the beauty and remembrance of all who we are with the divine.

In Mohawk, the word for song, Karèn:nen is translated as “lay your vibration down.” This word was interpreted as a word for prayer by Western linguists. In Sufism, there is also the idea that the soul itself is song. Ceremonial and social songs in the Longhouse are sung to the people, Creation, and to the Creator for healing, remembrance, and peace, just as “The power of the voice as inspiring, healing, peace-giving, harmonizing, convincing, appealing…” exists in Sufism (Hazrat Inayat Khan). As Sufis may “increase the fire of their devotion while listening to music,” the Mohawks of the Iroquois Confederacy dance and sing around the fire to express their love of Creation.

In addition, there are many values and aspects that are similar, such as concern for the community, circle dances, the importance of ceremony, story-telling and metaphor, healing techniques, all of Creation at the center of daily life, the concept of gratitude.  I have been privileged to study language from both traditions through a cultural and historical translation of each syllable. I use these ancient languages in part of my music to invoke the spiritual depth that these two traditions give to us – with hope for the future.

Dawn Avery – Photo by Deborah Martin

DJL: Speaking of hope for the future, you wrote to me of a “softer kind of activism,” and your performances have been described as “loving.” Can you speak to that?

DA: Yes, I see my role not as pushing a specific agenda, but working in a healing and unifying role to share some thoughts in a less threatening way.  I hope that comes through to the audience. People often tell me they received love and healing in the room. I know as a trained healer that I am giving and receiving! It is probably unusual for someone of Native American heritage to be seen onstage performing Sufi music.

DJL:  Do you think it is important in these times that the broader American society better understands Native American and Sufi philosophies? 

DA: It is so important that Americans understand that the basis of these philosophies is love and respect.  I teach at the college level and I see many Muslim students saying how they are stereotyped as terrorists.  These kind and intelligent students are often treated so ethnocentrically. 

As we know, humanity consists of both good and bad.  However,  it seems that racist tendencies have really been brought out during this current time.  I think that many people knew they existed in the United States, but perhaps some of us did not realize just how strong they were.

My way of participating in a “softer activism,”  is to present and open up discussion to different points of view through less threatening mediums such as music, workshops, conversation, and the bringing of different cultures together. I want to hold onto the core of beauty and love that are not only important in both Native American and Sufi philosophies, but to us all.

Dawn Avery

DJL:  You have recorded many albums in your musical career, why this album now?

DA:  Well, I worked on recording it two years ago, but kept it to myself for a while, meditating on it, before sharing it with the world. Sharing the different voices of humanity. Releasing this music has a vulnerable aspect to it where something that was private becomes very public. 

There is the track “Super Heroes” on the album with the refrain, “Be a Super Hero, renegade for love.” The United States has a strong tradition of super heroes, especially in cartoons. But here the hero could be the listener. The song is ultimately about how we elevate our spirits in the world.

DJL: Your music has a meditative quality to it: it reminds me of Philip Glass’s music.

DA: Yes, it can be meditative. People have described it as, “mystic pop.” Perhaps, it has a chill and spiritual aspect to it that is found in Glass’s music. I love hearing what associations people have when they listen to my music. It is meant to be music that enables people to reflect.

DJL: There are two other main musicians that perform on this album, the guitarist Larry Mitchell and Behfar Behadoran who is a vocalist, tar, and daf musician. Can you speak about them?

DA: Larry and I have worked together for about ten years on several Native American music and meditation projects.  He has been described as a guitar texturalist. He lays down a delicious bed of textures and grooves from which I can soar as a musician. Our different strengths interweave with one another. 

I met Behfar while teaching at Montgomery College. One day, I was surprised to see this student walking around campus with a Sitar.  I really like how he plays because he knows the old Persian Sufi songs, but he can bring a contemporary feel and great technique to them.

It is also important for me to include Sakina Nur, the whirling dervish who performs with us live on stage.  She is also a flamenco dancer and sometimes includes that tradition when she performs. Sakina even got the audience to whirl!  I cannot separate her from us as musicians as Sakina is integral to this new music.  In the Iroquois tradition, we have this idea of being connected to the earth.  And you cannot really whirl as a Sufi dervish, unless you are connected to the earth and reach for the skies.  When I play with her, she makes true magic and her vibration is part of the musical prayer.

DJL: Towards the album’s end, the music also makes true magic.  “Night and Day” is a powerful, mesmerizing piece. The pace slows down. The music breathes.  There is a beautiful interplay between the cello and the tar.  Theirs is a heartfelt conversation. 

DA: “Night and Day,” is contemplative, it is a song about longing for the beloved spiritual teacher.

DJL: Do you move into a different state when you perform?

DA: Once I step on stage, I am in meditative connection with the audience and performers, a channel of the divine. I am truly blessed to be connected to people in this way. The performance is prayer.

For more information about Dawn Avery, you can visit her website: www.dawnavery.com

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Sufi Music Icon Abida Parveen to Perform in London

Abida Parveen

Pakistani vocalist Abida Parveen is set to perform on Friday, July 12, 2019 at Barbican Hall in London. Abida Parveen is one of the greatest Sufi vocalists of the modern era. She will perform traditional Sufi music (sufiana kalaam) together with her ensemble.

Abida Parveen sings ghazals and kafis – based on songs by Sufi poets – in Urdu, Sindhi, Saraiki, Punjabi and Farsi, accompanied by percussion and harmonium.

Parveen received her musical training by both her father, the renowned Ustad Ghulam Haider, who led his own music school and by Ustad Salaamat Ali Khan of the Sham Chorasia gharana.

Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London

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Dan Kurfirst: Drawn to the Light of Love

Dan Kurfirst is a composer, percussionist, and educator based in New York City.   He is not a flashy drummer as stereotyped by Sesame Street’s character Animal.  Dan brings a thoughtful, considered approach to his music.  His playing is compelling, drawing the listener into a gentle dance.

Dan Kurfirst

Dan was born and has spent most of his life in New York.  An early memory is of having a toy drum set.  Other instruments also came into his life as a child.  He took guitar lessons. At fourteen, he became aware that some boys at his school were starting a rock group.  He offered to play guitar, but they said they needed a drummer.  He chuckles and says “I tried to play drums.”

Later, Dan studied percussion with Shane Shanahan, a musician who knows drumming traditions from around the world. He also learnt from Hakan Kaya, a famed percussionist from Turkey. Beginning in 2009, Dan made regular trips to Istanbul to explore the connections between Sufism and Middle Eastern music. His playing is rooted in jazz and rock to which he brings elements of Middle Eastern, Indian, and West African music.  Dan performs with several groups in New York City, including Ensemble Fanaa and the American Sufi Project that have attracted a following. In conversation, he is quiet and unassuming. We spoke about both his experience as an educator and as a musician.

Dan Kurfirst

Other than the frame drum that is a large round, flat percussive drum and the drum set, what percussion do you play?

I play the darbuka (a goblet shaped percussion drum.) I love the calabash from Mali (which is a drum in a half circle hollowed out from the calabash tree), that is the next one I would like to make deep study of.

You were musical Director with the Children’s Museum for an exhibit entitled, “Manhattan America to Zanzibar, Muslim cultures near and far.” Can you describe that experience?

Yes, it was an amazing exhibit that covered the entire Muslim world. The exhibitors wanted to do a touch screen app where the kids could press pictures of different instruments and hear them.  They contacted me to direct the musicians for the app. We had a kora, a tabla, a gigeck – it’s like a stand up violin, a ney that is a flute, a frame drum, and an oud. It was not a complicated composition, but all the instruments sounded good together and it was a great project.

Does such an exhibit make the understanding of world music more vivid for young children?

Yes, that was the idea, there were descriptive texts so the children could learn by reading about the different instruments and where they come from. We did some live performances, so the kids loved that. Hearing music is a better way to learn about different cultures than by reading about them.

I saw a YouTube video where your group American Sufi Project talked about the ney instrument. Is your work with the Sufi Project also educational?

We did some educational videos with our first album release.This group’s focus is to record and perform music. But American Sufi Project is more than a band, our hope is to connect people to all kinds of artistic expression from the American Sufi community. I am the Director of the musical component of the group.

“Meet Yourself, Mast Qualander,” is a highlight track from American Sufi Project’s second album of the same name.  It was a collaboration with Dhruv Sangari, a vocalist from the Qawaali genre. Qawaali is Sufi devotional music from India.  Dhruv sings with such longing on this track, accompanied by your steady frame drum, among other instruments.  How did you come to work with him?

I met Dhruv in 2009, when I was in Turkey and first interested in music from that part of the world.  I got into a taxi with some other musicians. In the car, there was a nice older man, he asked us, “What are you?” And we said, “You know we are musicians,” And the man said, “Well, you know music is a sin.” He was half joking. Dhruv who was also in the car then had this great response. He said, “Yeah, I hope I won’t need it one day.” His answer made me immediately like him a lot.

We spent several nights singing and playing together, then I found out he was the last official disciple of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, which is powerful (Khan was a singer who made the Qawaali genre more celebrated worldwide).  Dhruv comes to the United States quite a lot,because he has family here. We were able to record together in 2014.

He has an evocative voice…

Yes, well he is now the true representative of the Qawaali tradition.

There is also a track called “Drawn to the Light of Love,” from American Sufi Project’s first album that I enjoyed. It brings to mind the image of a caterpillar slowly winding up a leaf.  There is a mournful quality as the ney plays long, drawn out, notes. Can you talk about this track?

That is a traditional Turkish Ilahi form. An Ilahi is a religious hymn in Sufism. As a group, we’ve tried to study Sufi musical traditions, but you realize that you cannot hope to achieve the exact sound of someone who comes from generations within a certain culture. So you learn from the traditions and bring your interpretations to them, perhaps jazz improvisation. On that track, I played in a rhythm that is not the traditional three beat cycle for an Ilahi. But it worked. 

When you play live, is it a meditative feeling that you are aiming for?

Yes, you need to maintain a focal point.  I once heard a saying that goes something like “The way of the Sufi is sobriety within ecstasy.” But with this music if you lose your focus, it is going to fall apart. You have to be there with it for the audience.

Would you say the purpose of Sufi music is to elevate the audience’s spirit?

Yes, but if you are the musician you have a difficult job.You have to maintain your sobriety, it is more of a service for the audience.Although there are tremendous benefits for the soul in practicing and playing this music, there’s no doubt about that. Your question reminds me of the jazz musician Bill Evans, who was more concerned with the layperson’s immediate reaction to his music than musicians who cannot help but hear the technical aspect and what might be wrong with the music.

What is it about Sufi music that may resonate with someone’s spirit or is that hard to speak to?

Yes, it’s all hard to speak to.  (We both laugh). In Near Eastern music there is an untempered tonal system. In the Western system like on the piano, you have twelve very defined notes that are equal steps away from each other. The Eastern systems are not like that, they vary in terms of complexity.  In the Turkish system there are a lot more than twelve notes in an octave. You know, for example, you can have a B half flat and in certain music in Turkey it is even a little more flat. Tom Chess who is the ney player for the American Sufi Project described it very well when he said, ‘When you have a twelve tone system, you have the emotions of I am happy or I am sad, but when you have the subtlety of the microtonal systems,emotions become more complex, such as I am somewhere in between happy and sad.That’s also more of what real life is like.’

Maqam is the word for scale in the Turkish tradition. Maqam also means both the place and the grave where a holy person is buried.  Each Maqam is like a little emotional place that you explore inside a group of notes. There are different emotional and spiritual qualities that are associated with each Maqam. I don’t think Eastern music is more transcendent than Western music, generally, to me it is a different type of transcendence. John Coltrane had one way, Taksim another way,and Qawaali another way. No culture has a monopoly on transcendence of soul or anything like that.

You mention the musician John Coltrane, has he inspired you?

Yes, I’ve heard his recordings my whole life, because my father played them, but in my twenties I started to experience his music differently. His playing opened me up to a deeper understanding of music. At its apex, the music coming out of John Coltrane’s horn and ensembles sounds like pure love to me.

***

It is clear from our conversation that Dan has spent true time nurturing his craft.  He is a dedicated musician. His group Ensemble Fanaa released their self-titled debut album in September to good response.  His journey of tying together Eastern music with Western continues.   

For more information about Dan Kurfirst, you can visit his website at: dankurfirstmusic.com

To purchase Ensemble Fanaa’s latest album ensemblefanaa.bandcamp.com/releases

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The Fantastical Musical Journey of Ozan

Ozan Aksoy – Ozan (2018)

The prodigious talents of Alevi Kurdish musician, singer and composer Ozan Aksoy is apparent from the opening strains of his upcoming November 2nd release of Ozan. Earning his chops early with saz lessons from father and later on with a spot in the group Kardeş Türküler, Mr. Aksoy soon found himself in New York pursuing a degree in ethnomusicology and whole new set of musical collaborators. On this lushly elegant recording charms out the riches of Kurdish, Turkish and Armenian musical traditions by way of folk tunes, love songs, laments and lullabies, carefully snagging western influences, Turkish Anatolian pop tunes and even flamenco riffs.

Mr. Aksoy remarks, “As an Alevi Kurdish musician playing the saz, and as an immigrant musician in the US, I was surrounded by many constraints including my cultural baggage. That burden is why I couldn’t make a solo album until now. But the time came. I wanted to share what I’ve been doing the past few years with the public. But I didn’t want to limit the sound of the album to a traditional box. I wanted to have collaborations with musicians from different parts of the world, who play jazz or other styles. It’s my way of being a Kurdish musician in New York.”

Luring listeners with vocals, bass guitar, ukulele, lavta (lute), saz (long-necked lute), kaval (flute), frame drums, percussion and keyboard, Mr. Aksoy furthers his sound on Ozan with guest musicians violinist Jeremy Brown, teff and claps by Ramzi El-Edlibi, pianist Tamara Kacheimeier, cellist Ani Kalayjian, classical guitarist Richard Miller, sarangi Shyam Nepali, vocalist Leah Shaw, drummer Jonathan Vergara and electric guitarist Luke Vichnis. Ozam is where Mr. Aksoy and company conjure up a musical landscape that bridges east and west, the traditional and the modern and where one music speaks to another.

 

Ozan Aksoy

 

This is a snapshot of where I am as an artist. I’m putting all these traditions together in an era of hatred and separation. I didn’t want to shy away from that. Ultimately, these songs speak to our political climate, in the U.S. and in Turkey. They are about immigration, human experience, universal sensations,” Aksoy notes. “This is my current mood. As I grow older, I want to turn attention to those essential emotions that are overlooked in modern life, the nostalgia, pain, suffering. And the hope; there is hope in there, too.”

Opening with “Rhythms of Loneliness,” Ozan takes off on a fantastical journey that is steeped in exotic strings and piano laced with ethereal vocals before giving way to the smooth and easy “Hope” laced with bold dashes of sarangi.

Equally delicious are tracks like the Mediterranean flavored and framed drum edged “Rinde,” the richly worked “Kanchum Em Ari Ari” with its soulful vocals and cello lines and the love song “Leyla.” Additionally, there are goodies like the Armeno-Turkish lament “Derzor Colleri” and the darkly plummy closing track “Dandini.”

Ozan is a remarkably rich musicscape and we can’t wait to find out what Mr. Aksoy has in store for us in the future.

Buy the Ozan digital version

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Artist Profiles: Gulfam Sabri

Gulfam Sabri
Singer Gulfam Sabri belongs to a distinguished lineage of traditional musicians and represents the 7th generation of the Sainia Gharana of Rampur-Moradabad. He is the youngest sibling of the great Sarangi maestro Ustad Sabri Khan, who is a recipient of the Padma-bhushan award.

His illustrious father Ustad Sabri Khan initiated Gulfam Sabri into music at a very early age. In his keenness to explore the vast realms of music he has carved a niche for himself as a Sufiana & Ghazal singer and is committed to popularizing this art form. However, his singing is not only restricted to the Indian music but also involves collaborative work with western and Asian musicians, and theatre artists.

Gulfam Sabri has performed widely in concerts across USA, Europe, Africa, Australia, South-East Asia and in India as well. In 2000 he participated in the ?Re-Orient Festival`- Estonia and also had the honor to perform in UK’s prestigious festival BBC Live-2000, to usher the millennium at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham. This talented artist gave a solo performance followed by a Sarangi recital by his father- the living legend Ustad Sabri Khan and accompanied by his renowned brother Ustad Sarwar Sabri on the tabla.

In March 05 and November 05 `he not only performed in an International Sufi festival in Kabul-Afghanistan to commemorate the Chishti tradition of Sufism, but was also specially invited by the King of Afghanistan King Zahir Shah at his Palace to perform before a select elite gathering where his rendition of ghazals was well received by the discerning connoisseurs of music. The festival was organized by the Ministry of Culture ICCR- Delhi and In July `06` he performed for Asian Sufi Festival In Srinagar-Kashmir

Gulfam Sabri’s strength lies in the fact that his style of singing has retained the flavor of yesteryear’s ghazal singers and has received applause even from the younger generation.

In addition to his excellence within the tradition of Hindustani music Gulfam Sabri, who has been awarded the Sangeet Bhushana Award, Best Artist Award from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi and the Surmani, Mumbai, also specializes in extensive educational work on music and its various aspects.

Impressed by his knowledge of music at such a young age, the Fine Arts Society, Singapore, invited Gulfam Sabri to teach Indian music. He also holds lec-dems in schools, colleges and in schools for children with special needs. He believes that music is an art with therapeutic effects therefore these special children take to it easily making their life less stressful. This multifaceted artist has also performed and given lec-dems at Jazz Conservatoire, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia as well as in Sibelius Academy, Finland.

Recently, Gulfam Sabri in collaboration with Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK, has held a series of workshops on the finer nuances of Indian music inspiring even the youngest of the young. This was followed by a tour of Hong Kong, UK and Ireland for Ghazal performances for the promotion of his CD Dehleez, which was released in the UK.

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Ney Maestro Hossein Omoumi to Perform at A World in Trance festival in New York

Hossein Omoumi – Photo by Marco Prozzo

Persian ney (flute) virtuoso and vocalist Hossein Omoumi is set to perform a concert of Persian classical and Sufi music on Sunday, April 29, 2017 at Roulette in Downtown Brooklyn, New York. This is the closing concert of A World in Trance festival.

Hossein Omoumi has toured and recorded with many of Iran’s leading artists, including Parissa, and introduced significant innovations to the ney and Iranian percussion. He will be joined by vocalist Jessika Kenney, Amir Koushkani (setar and tar lutes), and Hamin Honari (tombak , drum, daf). Their program of mystical and spiritual Persian music is influenced by the Isfahan school, which is based on vocal repertoire and poetry; included are works by Rumi and Attar.

Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue (at 3rd Avenue), Downtown Brooklyn
roulette.org
Information and tickets: www.robertbrowningassociates.com/hossein-omoumi.html

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Artist Profiles: Hossein Omoumi

Hossein Omoumi – Photo by Marco Prozzo

Hossein Omoumi was born in 1944 in Isfahan, Iran, and commenced his musical education singing with his father. At age 14, he studied the ney, the traditional reed flute of Iran.

At the same time as he was studying architecture, Hossein was accepted as a tutorial student at the National Superior Conservatory of Music in Tehran. He worked with maestros Mahmud Karimi and Farhad Fakhreddini, and subsequently went on to study with acclaimed ney master Hassan Kassaei.

His career as a performer has included appearances at many major festivals and concert halls in Europe and the United States.

A distinguished scholar and teacher of Persian music, he taught at the National Conservatory, Tehran University, and the Center for Preservation and Dissemination of Music in Tehran; the Center for Oriental Music Studies (CEMO) of Sorbonne University in Paris; and the ethnomusicology departments of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle.

Currently, he is the Maseeh Professor in Persian Performing Arts of Music at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). He has done wide-ranging research on the ney and Iranian percussion, and arranged and composed lessons to teach the standards of classical Persian music under the title of ‘Pish Radif.’

The movie Classical Persian Music – Hossein Omoumi from Isfahan to Irvine, that documents his goal to make classical Persian music widely available, was released in 2017, supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Discography:

Persian Classical Music, with Sima Bina ‎(Nimbus Records, 1995)
Persian Classical Music, with Madjid Khaladj ‎(Nimbus Records, 1995)
Improvisation in the Mahour Mo, with Madjid Khaladj (Al Sur, 1996)
Tale Of Love I – Esfahan (QuarterTone, 1999)
Tale Of Love II – Nava (QuarterTone, 2003)
Sarmast – Trance of Devotion, with Madjid Khaladj ‎(Bâ Music Records, 2004)
Voices of Spring Avay – E Bahar (2009)
Earthly Exile (Mahoor Institute Of Culture & Arts, 2015)
Ateş-i Aşk, with Kiya Tabassian, and Ziya Tabassian (Z Ses Görüntü, 2016)

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Artist Profiles: Bora Yasar

Bora Yasar

Bora Yasar was born in 1973 in Gaziantep, Turkey. He studied Alevi music and played saz for a semah group. He studied and applied classical Turkish music maqam and sufi music on the fretless classic guitar with neyzen Sezgin Bademli (University of Gaziantep Conservatory). In addition to his musical studies, Yasar studied Agricultural Engineering at Ankara University (1992-1994), Environmental Engineering at Mayis University (1994-1997) and Mechanical Engineering at University of Gaziantep (1997-21).

He has been researching Mesopotamian and Anatolian (which contains Turkish, Kurdish, Suryani, Armenian, and Laz) music and their similarities.

He plays saz, kopuz, yayli, mizrapli, tanbur, and fretless guitar.

Currently, he lives in New York and is working with different musicians from all over the world.

Our goal is to musically combine the traditions of the different ethnicities, societies and tribes of Asia Minor throughout history beginning from Greeks and including Romans, Ottomans, Armenians, Jews, and Kurds,” says Bora Yasar. Along with Olcay Sesen, he makes up Sounds From Anatolia, a group they founded several years ago in Gaziantep, an ancient city in the South-East part of Turkey.

Sounds From Anatolia utilizes classic scales and local instruments to create a fusion of modern day sounds that bear traditional forms of Classical Turkish,Folkloric and Sufi (Tasawwuf) music. Played in the Anatolian maqqam (mode system), these songs include a wide range of styles from songs of mystical love (ghazal), to hymns (ilahi) and music of the Ottoman court. By fusing this musicwith their own improvisational compositions, they become archivist of the traditional repertoire while molding old forms into a new form. Their music isnot East meets West, more than it is ancient meets today.

Their mission of introducing the indigenous music of their ancestors to the world brought them to the US last year. Here is a short excerpt from our conversation with Bora:

How did you start working together?

Everything started organically. We met in college, had long conversations about music and gradually started playing together. In time we realized that there were more people around us listening to our music than we had initially thought.

How would you define your sound?

We are very interested in ethnic sounds. Every major society that resided in Anatolia left a distinctive sound and style. That’s why the region is so rich today. Lift a stone from the ground and you can trace the marks of different cultures that have existed there. The music of Anatolia is a mosaic and so is our sound.

What kind of instruments are you using in your music?

I went to school in different parts of Turkey and was introduced to different sounds inherent to those regions. I played with local musicians at family fests and gatherings and was introduced to a myriad of local instruments. I play classic and fretless guitar, tanbur (a long-necked plucked lute with frets),flute, cura, and kopuz (a short-stringed lute with three strings). My partner Olcay accompanies me with the classic guitar.

Musically speaking, who influenced you?

We are influenced by a wide array of artists but most importantly I would say Erkan Ogur. He is the pioneer of the fretless guitar and an extremely experienced musician in the field. Other than that the Armenian duduk player Jivan Gasparyan, Goksel Baktagir, 13th century poets Yunus Emre and Asik Veysel. We also buy almost everything Kalan Music puts out in Turkey; all their releases are superior.

In your shows you mention the story of Mississippi and the blues. What is the real story?

I read an interview with Erkan Ogur and he was saying that in order to be able to play the blues or jazz you had to cross the Mississippi river 4-5 times.Ogur was drawing a comparison to Turkish folk music and explaining how difficult it is to master it. So, we decided to come here and see if we can cross theriver.

Are you really going to do that?

We don’t know, maybe. We’ll begin with the Hudson River, we live in New Jersey. [laughs]

Who would you like to collaborate with?

Needless to say, Erkan Ogur is our biggest influence and we would give anything to play with him. I also found out that Omar Faruk Tekbilek lives in New York and we would like to collaborate with him as well.

What is your goal for the future?

We would like to play as much as possible to introduce our sound to the American people and at the same time learn their ethnic sounds.

[Interview courtesy of Bora Yasar].

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Niyaz featuring Azam Ali at ‘A World In Trance’ Music Series

Niyaz

One of the finest acts in the world music scene, Niyaz featuring Azam Ali will perform its 21st Century Global Trance Music on Saturday, April 29 at 8:00 pm at Roulette in New York City.

Niyaz combines Sufi poetry and folk songs from its native Iran and surrounding countries with rich acoustic instrumentation and modern electronics. Formed in California in 2004 and currently based in Montreal, Niyaz’s sound bridges the gap between East and West.

The group was founded by the mesmerizing vocalist andcomposer Azam Ali, whose Iranian heritage and Indian upbringing have deeply influenced her music, and multi-instrumentalist and composer Loga Ramin Torkian (oud & kamaan lutes). They will be joined by Didem Basar (kanun), Gabriel Ethier (keyboards, programming), Vaneet Vyas (tabla), and whirling dervish dancer Miriam Peretz.

Niyaz recently released The Best of Niyaz.

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Artist Profiles: Abida Parveen

Abida Parveen

Abida Parveen, the queen of Sufi mystic singing spreads the message of love and induces a state of spiritual ecstasy with her Sufi mystic songs. An artist who has been recognized as a rue force in the realm of Sufi music, she proclaims her faith with her entire body. She is considered one of the most prominent contemporary exponents of the great ghazal and kafi musical styles from the Indian subcontinent. Rooted in the intense encounter between sensitivity and spirituality that is Sufism. She never ceases to sing her fiery love for the Divine.

The earliest memories of her childhood are all linked to her passion for music and her desire to sing. Born in 1954 in Larkana, Sindh into a family tat maintains close associations with the shrines of Sufi saints. She was imparted her initial training in the art of music from her father, Ustad Ghulam Haider, and later from Ustad Salamat Ali Khan of Sham Chorasia gharana. Her father, whom she refers to as reverently as Baba Sain, was also a singer and had his own small music school where he taught only male pupils. He was devoted to the Sufi poets and that is from where Abida gets her devotional inspiration. For her the Sufi poets of Sindh and Punjab are the ones who speak of the inner truths of the self and in their poetry, where she finds solace and peace. As she was growing up, Abida attended her father’s music school and that was where her foundation in music was laid.

Hyderabad Radio first introduced her in 1977. She is today the most popular and well-known folk and ghazal singer of Pakistan who breathed a new life into ghazal and semi-classical music. She holds an audience of thousands spellbound. Her appearance is a complete reverse of many other stage performers. She begins each number as solemnly as the previous one as the evening progresses, sinking deeper and deeper into her kafi’s and Sufiana kalam of the mystic poets. She is a woman of very few words and asks to be judged only by her music. This folk phenomenon, called Abida Parveen, is deeply religious and profoundly humble.

Abida Parveen is the finest singer of ghazal, geet and sindhi, seraiki and punjabi kafees. ‘While khayal and thumri became a part of her childhood training, her effective rendering of folk and traditional music with great sophistication and without losing the basic characteristics of the regional music of sindh has made her a versatile singer.’

Abida Parveen

Her command of kafi of sufi poets such as Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Hazrat Lal Shabaz Qalandar, Hazrat Sacchal Sarmast from sindh, and Hazrat Baba Bulhe Shah, Hazrat Khawja Farid Ganje Shakar, Hazrat Sultan Bahu, Hazrat Mian Muhammad Buksh, Hazrat Ghulam Farid, Hazrat Pir Mehr Ali Shah and Hazrat Shah Hussain from pujab embellishes her versatility. Apart from sufis of Pakistan, Parveen also sings mystic poetry of the Asian Indian subcontinent, which include sufis such as Hazra Amir Khusrau, Hazrat Nizamudin Auliya, Hazrat Kutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti and Hazrat Moulana Jalaluddin Roomi from Turkey.

Professor G.M. Mekhri of Sind University has rightly said that, ‘Abida Parveen is the spiritual daughter of Great Sufi Saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. She is the truly blessed voice.’ Abida has recorded all the poetry of Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, an 18th century poet and composer who blended folk music and classical raga in a style known as kafi from his book called ‘Shah jo Risalo’ according to their respective ‘Raags’ which were also laid down by him.

She has performed almost in all parts of the world and performed before international audiences and placed the name of the country high up I the field of music. Abida Parveen performed in Chicago in 1988. Her fist performance was based on classical and semi-classical art, the second was comprised of ghazals of prominent poets and the third rested on folk singing and different varieties of sindhi music. Her performance was recorded by the renowned organization Hazrat Amir Khusrau Society of Art and Culture, which issued a long play recording of her renderings.

Discography:

Live In U.K. Vol 3 (Star Compact Disc, 1994)
Pakistani Sufi Songs (Inedit, 1995)
Are Logo Tumhara Kya (Timeline Records, 1998)
Jahan-E-Khusrau – A Festival Of Amir Khusrau (Times Music, 2001)
Baba Bulleh Shah (Oreade Music, 2002)
Sings Sufi Music (Times Music, 2002)
Hazrat shah Hussain (Times Music, 2002)
Visal (World Village, 2002)
The Sufi Queen (Times Music, 2004)
Heer (ZYX Music, 2004)
Ishq (Accords Croisés, 2005)
Sufi Soul (Saregama, 2005)
Ghalib (Times Music, 2008)
Kabir (Times Music, 2009)
Mast Qalandar (Navras, 2010)
The Best Of Abida Parveen (Music Today, 2011)
Raqs-e-Bismil (Music Today, 2011)
Ho Jamalo (Music Today, 2011)
Qalander Asra Hai (2011)
The Sufi Queen (Vol.1) (2011)
30 Greatest Hits Abida Parveen And Noor Jehan (2011)
Treasures (Vol.1) (2011)
Eternal Abida (2012)
Lal De Rang Vich Rangi Aan (2012)
Sufiana safar (2012)
Tera Lal Sakhi Mera Lal Sakhi (2012)
Shaane-e-Ali (2012)Ru-e-Ali (2013)
Zikr – Soul of Sufism (Vol. 2) (2014)
Tasawwuf (2014)

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