After the end of every song, my Turkish friend Semih, without fail, would sit straight clapping and smiling as he said enthusiastically, “çok iyi ya!” “So good” he proclaimed! Semih, my tall, thin friend from Tokat, could not have described the notes and rhythms  of Erkan Oğur any better.

Last weekend, a student group at Bogazici, working in collaboration with a Turkish organization called ILKYAR, invited the famous Turkish folk musician Erkan Oğur to perform at a concert benefiting ILKYAR. The organization travels to schools all across Turkey with the aim of promoting a broader world view and to encourage education in very rural areas of Turkey (http://www.ilkyar.org.tr/).

Erkan Oğur grew up in Southeastern Turkey where he showed a keen interest in traditional and folk Turkish music. Oğur mostly performs ancient Turkish and folk music using such instruments as the ‘bağlama’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ba%C4%9Flama) and ‘oud’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oud). I was amazed at the age of some of the pieces performed. “This is a song from Urfa during the 15th century,” Esad would inform me. Then even more astounding was listening to the audience, in perfect harmony and unison, singing along with the melody. Wide-eyed and smiling, I was blown away by the lasting impact each song seemed to have. The melody, rhythm, and lyrics were ageless, spanning generations and from one empire to the next to the Turkish Republic. During intermission, my Turkish friends, who had first informed me of the concert, taught me a little piece of folk music trivia. When many of these pieces were written, copyright, as we know it, did not exist. So, the composers would sneakily work their name into the lyrics towards the end of the song. Moreover, they said when you hear the name it is an indication that the song was coming to the end.

Watching Erkan Oğur play is fascinating. His eyes appear half closed, as if he is in deep thought. Between notes, his hand floats back and forth above his bağlama. At one point I felt myself drifting off into a dream-like state, not out of boredom but in meditation. Each note was weighted, emotional, played from the heart. Erkan Oğur seems to have a way to pull each of the listeners into his trance. You cannot simply listen to the music he plays, you must experience it.

If you are interested in listening to Erkan Oğur renditions of Turkish folk music, my personal favorites are: ‘Pencereden Kar Geliyor’ (Snow Comes From the Window), ‘Dersimde Dört Dağ İçinde’ (Dersim is in Between Four Mountains), and ‘Zeynebim’ (My Zeynep).

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