My first real run-in with Turkish music and the Sufi religion came while I worked as night-supervisor at the Duke University library. It was a great job. I’d hide in the back office, reading. Once in a while, I’d get up to check on how the work-study students were handling the desk, and when the night was done, I’d lock up and go home. Easiest and most enjoyable $50 I’ve ever made, before or since.
My idyll didn’t last long. At one of my first staff meetings, I got to meet one of the other night supervisors, who worked on nights when I was off. Hal was in the middle of his Ph.D. in Religion, an expert on Sufi and Islam. He was a well-known character around campus. Hal was researching the mysterious “green man” in Islamic religious texts, and as a sign of devotion to his topic, he took to wearing green clothing every single day. While I hadn’t yet meet him, I had seen Duke’s own green man strutting around the campus often enough to know who he was. The minute Hal heard my name announced at the meeting, he began to look me strangely. It was unnerving. At the end of meeting, he sprinted over to me, and I spent the next hour or so trying to convinced him that my parents hadn’t named me (or misnamed me) after an important Sufi poet. Hal wasn’t convinced and took it upon himself to make see the error of my ways.
More often than not, from that point on my blissful nights on the job were interrupted by visits from Hal. He’d go on and on about things I had no understanding of or opinion about. I’d be trying to make sense of Saussure and he’d be telling me about Sufism. One day Hal brought a stack of CDs with him. I looked uncertainly at the faded inks on the covers and the pictures of stern looking men holding instruments that I’d never seen before. It was still a novelty at that time to listen to CDs on a computer, and so more for the sake of playing with new technology than expanding my horizons, I popped one in when he finally left me alone…and was instantly transported to a marvelous place that I knew I’d want to return to again and again. Hal never made me understand what he was getting on about. But from then on, if you listened hard enough, you could hear the sounds of the bendir, the djembe, the darbuka, and the oud, slipping out from underneath the door of the supervisor’s office of the Duke library. I learned critical theory to the sound of Sufi prayers.
And yet, even so, I know almost nothing about Turkish music, except that it’s almost impossible not to be enchanted by it. I’m not sure if Omar Faruk Tekbilek is the virtuoso that he is claimed to be. I do know that this is marvelous music. Mysterious, haunting, and deeply spiritual—or frenzied, energetic and explosive, this is perhaps the richest music that I’ve heard in quite some time. If you want to get a feel for the music of Turkey and the cadences of the poetry of Sufism, One Truth is highly recommended. A beautiful, moving album that uses a mix of traditional and modern instruments to good effect, One Truth is probably unlike anything you’ve heard before—and that’s becoming something that’s increasingly hard to say these days.
// Notes from the Road
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