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LATIF BOLAT / Devotional songs, caravanserai and troubadours


13.12.2019, Holyrood, Edinburgh

Welcome Latif , how nice is to meet you back in Edinburgh, after few years. You are still a journeyman, travelling all over the world with inspiring old songs from Turkey…

I am one of the last troubadors from Turkey, I take not just the songs but the meaning, philosophy and history of those songs to wherever i go. A knowledge surviving all the way from almost a thousand years ago.

Where do these songs come from?

These songs are mystic folk poetry, some of them were written in the XIV, XV , XVI and some in the early XX. Some of the songs I sing and carry around are anonymous, we don´t know who composed them, some of them are my own compositions of these old poetry.

I am reading on your book “Quarrelling with God” that these lyrics have a special flavour, there is a certain rebellious theme weaving trough them

Yes, these are mystic Sufís which are questioning people, they do not really obey to rules and wait for the judgement day. They think and when they see injustice they try to correct it and because of that they are somewhat rebellious. All the mystics originally were sharing this trait. Think about St Francis of Assisi, he was a very rebellious person. St John of the Cross was too. They did not just go with the mainstream, they did something else. They did mystical interpretation of Christianity. These Sufi mystics I sing their songs and recite their poetry go beyond Islamic obligations, they try to find answers to unseen ideas and feelings.

Are those people and their names still remembered in nowaday Turkey?

Some of them definitely are remembered and some of them have never been forgotten like Rumi, Yunus Emre, Hagi Bektash, Pir Sultan Abdal. For the forgotten ones I feel it is my duty – and also my pleasure – to bring them out and translate their poetry into english so the whole world can take advantage of their mystical interpretation of things in the world.

Some of them were singsongwriters, can you tell us more about those tunes?

Most of these poets are also troubadours, they propagate their ideas through poetry and music. Because of that this poetry is written in the folk fashion that people can just sing in the mountains without any instruments. These tunes are very easy to sing, they rhyme like all the folk poetry in the world, there is rhyming at the end of every sentence so they become very musical even before you apply music to it. But most of these people were instrument players, so when they compose the music they also sang the lyrics to people. They were very strong music wise and lyric wise that their work has been transmitted for many generations.

Have those lyrics ever been written down?

From XVIII, those lyrics have been written on deer skin, making up collections we call “divans”. And through them we know them. Other reached us through oral tradition, possibly through many changes. People added lines and meaning to them along the way.

How those songs became widely known?

For my understanding the author gets inspired ,composes his poetry and writes the song. Then he moves. These people are not stationary, they are troubadours, just like the European ones or the Indian bauls, they go around. They bring their songs, their stories, their knowledge, their news from village to village. Some of those songs turned out to be very powerful, people learned them immediately or in same places they stay longer so they have apprentices, students learning the master work. Then the students themselves start travelling, they sing the master´s poetry. As longs as you say something useful for humanity even eighth hundred years later some of this poetry is still very fresh for human condition.

I like the idea that one of the songs hit the ears of Italian painters while working in Turkey…

I am sure it happened. Like I think Leonardo Da Vinci himself might had something to do with this kind of processing, as he travelled Turkey. The Silk Road was a very busy highway of old times. Caravanserai existed from Venice to China. Mystics and merchants went and came back, bringing with them musical instruments. If the person was a Venetian musician for example I am sure when he played with Turkish musicians in a caravanserai five hundred years ago he would bring something home, without even knowing. He copied the idea, the music or the melody. That's why when we listen to old music even new music too, we all see influences from here and there. That is how Mozart did his compositions, some of them very European but think about the Turkish march, it has lots of Eastern echos.

Music does stick to us all, what about these songs you are taking around, I guess they become quite intimate, do they keep whispering at you, in your daily life?

These are devotional mystic oriented songs, not like oh baby don´t go, come back I cannot live without you… those are earthly lyrics which are fine in a sense, but they are redundant and not really that deep. The devotional songs and poetry of the world are very strong as they talk about humanity, universal knowledge, spirit. If you deal with these songs long enough, there is no way not to be influenced by them. Even if you do it just for pleasure, in a pretending fashion, some of these ideas can really seat in your heart and you start acting, it has that value too. An additional value that other music styles do not have. Like you might listen to Frank Sinatra songs, hundreds of them, well, the message is weak. Love between man and woman, we have seen it million of times, and because of that they may not really affect. But when you listen to devotional love songs it really changes you.

Are there places in Turkey open to folk music, is there a place and time for passing songs from old to new generations?

I think luckily we have a strong folk music tradition in Turkey. No matter the modern fashion, still this folk music, like the instrument - saz or baglama - and songs that I play, have a widespread acceptance and enjoyment. It is partly because Turkish music, structure wise is different form western music, even if you bombard them with lots and lots of Bob Dylan or Genesis songs it goes only a certain deep. Traditional Turkish music, with its macams (eg. scale systems), is very different and lyrics are somewhat mystical, people still feel them at intimate level. They do not quit quickly.

Thank you Latif, looking forward to hearing these songs tonight at Nomad’s Tent!

A coffee and a chat at Procaffeination, 4 St. Mary's Street, Edinburgh |Kaz, Latif and Giuseppe

Thank you to Andrew of Nomad's Tent for his enthusiasm and making this concert possible.

Find more info on Latif Bolat website

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