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DÜNYA provides night of Turkish music

By Alan Tran

Section: Arts

February 3, 2012

There are many things a college student can get up to on a Saturday night—yes, even at Brandeis—but of all those things, more than 100 students chose to go to the DÜNYA charity concert in Slosberg on Jan. 28.

Lucky they did: DÜNYA didn’t disappoint. After the pre-concert talk where organization president Mehmet Ali Sanlikol spoke about the night’s program, he and two other musicians spun music with traditional Turkish instruments, playing classical religious and secular pieces as well as folk songs, improvisations and contemporary riffs.

Abdul “Aziz” Sohail ’13, a member of the Brandeis Chapter of Project Nur who helped bring the Boston-based music collective and educational non-profit to Brandeis, wrote in an e-mail that the “purpose of the concert was to showcase the culture of Turkey while at the same time raise money for earthquake victims.”

“At the same time, it is also an act of cultural diplomacy. By showcasing the depth and variety of a culture we hope to build bridges by showing the more human side of our identities.”

Last October, an earthquake struck Turkey that left more than 600 dead, 4,000 injured and many more homeless. Through ticket and CD sales as well as donations, more than $800 was raised toward earthquake relief efforts. Other organizations that helped sponsor the concert included MusicUnitesUs, the Brandeis Pluralism Alliance, the ICC and the Brandeis Music Department.

The music was fantastic: Sharply plucked and smooth ringing tones melded together with lilting descant, a quick beat and sweeping exotic allure keeping the energy high. Slosberg Recital Hall easily carried delicate tonal inflections from the stage, where the musicians sat only a few feet from the first row of seats, through to the back of the hall. What impressed me most was their listening skills; while improvising they played perfectly together, following the sound of Mehmet’s breath to mark the beat without having to look.

Mehmet himself played three instruments, switching from the oud, the “guitar of the Middle East,” to the three-stringed saz, as well as a bamboo flute considered spiritual-sounding by Turkish natives. His companions played the çeng, a harp-like instrument that can be played by hand, and handheld drums including the tambourine-like daf.

Mehmet said when he was approached by Project Nur, he decided to design a set list specifically with Brandeis in mind. The final program began with traditional instrumental improvisation, followed by a mix of Turkish classical songs and urban folk music. The second and third parts of the program included rural and devotional songs. The last section consisted of music composed by an 18th-century sultan, transformed toward the end into a contemporary pop song.

If the notes sounded clear throughout the hall, the educational component was less in sync. Even hearing the pre-concert talk, the printed program was difficult to decipher, peppered throughout with foreign words; more time could have been spent to make it cleaner. Also, publicity efforts seemed mostly to reach those who already had a Middle Eastern background or interest, which makes sense from a fundraising perspective but limited the power of cross-cultural connections. One member of the audience, upon being told that donations would go toward Turkish earthquake relief said, “Oh, this is a charity thing? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Overall, the night’s weaknesses were far outshone by its strengths. Concertgoers left with a greater understanding of Turkish history, the sound of Turkish music ringing in their ears and traditional Turkish food in their stomachs.

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