Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Turkish Folk Music and Raki - A Relaxing Combination

I met a colleague in Alsancak and shared a taxi to a restaurant located in the dark, back alley of an old abandoned  industrial zone. I'm not sure I would have left the cab on my own but with her guidance and assurance, we walked into the restaurant/night club where several of the high school teachers had just started gathering for an end-of-term dinner that our principal had organized.

The walls were covered with little ledges holding real lit candles. The only additional illumination in the room came from the muted, subdued colors of the multi-coloredTurkish glass lamps. The quarter tones and arrhythmic beats of Turkish music filled the room.We were transported to an older period and time in Turkish culture.

I was seated between the principal and a very nice science teacher. I felt bad for the science teacher because I can't speak much Turkish and she can't speak much English. But, the principal can speak English and I noticed the raki glasses on the table so I figured that after awhile it wouldn't matter much whether we could talk or not. I could tell everyone was in the mood to unwind after a long semester.

The table was filled with Turkish mezza (appetizers), an important part of any Turkish meal, but especially one that includes raki. I was determined to taste everything and drink very slowly, following each sip of raki with a large drink of water. Having only drunk raki a handful of times, I think it's effects can be very deceiving. They say you should always see the waiter break the seal of the raki bottle or the drink will make you blind. I think that's just a "saying" to make sure you keep track of how many bottles have been opened. But my past experience with raki is that it makes both hearing and seeing difficult. The food, water and pacing are very important.

Not long into the dinner a group of musicians appeared on the stage: two violins, three percussionists, a clarinet and what looks likes an auto-harp. The musician playing the "auto-harp" has picks on most of his fingers and changes the key of the strings often by sliding a lever and using a tuning fork on the pins similar to what a piano tuner would do.

The interesting thing about Turkish folk music is that almost everyone over here (Malatya and Izmir included) knows all the words to most of the traditional Turkish folk songs. They can even tell you what region the song is from. And, each region has it's own style of dance that goes with the song, and most women can show you that style, too. The only equivalent I can think of in American music is Christmas music and not everyone can sing those songs either. Granted, when I was a child we were taught American folk songs at school, but I think we've lost that tradition in our curriculum. Most of the music in the text books available to me appeared to be "world music" or "pop music". And, I can't think of a single place where I could go and find Americans singing along except maybe in the south, Nashville for example. And, because I don't know country music very well, I wouldn't be able to join in.

But, I digress...perhaps the raki is still "talking"  In conclusion,the music, the singing, the dancing, and the raki made for a memorable, relaxing, enjoyable end to the semester and beginning of the holiday break.

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