Blue mohawk and the whirling dervish: a glimpse into contemporary Mevlevi soundscapes – Author: Nevin Şahin

Blue mohawk and the whirling dervish: a glimpse into contemporary Mevlevi soundscapes

Author: Nevin Şahin

25 September 2020

Authenticity in the performance of Mevlevi whirling rituals has long been discussed and for a few decades, a new tradition of commemorating Mevlana Rumi (1207-73) has been established. With the foundation of state ensembles solely for performing the ritual on stage, the construction of cultural centers that comprise circular “whirling halls” and the live broadcast of the “Wedding Night (Şeb-i Arûs)” ceremony in Konya on state television, this new soundscape has gained a claim of authenticity. Besides the groove of the longest and most complicated genre within the religious Turkish music tradition performed with traditional instruments such as ney, kudüm and tanbur, the lyrics from Rumi’s Masnavi accompanying the music, the breathing of ney playing dervishes, the breeze created by the whirling, the prayer following the whirling, and the long “Hû” of greeting dervishes, this new soundscape also hosts VIP speeches at the beginning of the ceremony, a concert of Muslim hymns, random chatting and clapping of the audience, and warnings of attendants to remind the audience that the performance they are witnessing is a religious ritual. However, this is not the only context of contemporary Mevlevi soundscapes. Approaching the birthday of Rumi this month, let’s remember the year 2007, when the 800th anniversary of Rumi’s birth was extensively celebrated, and the musical contexts in and around this celebrative atmosphere.

Besides the official ceremonies held in Konya, many other events were organized mostly in Istanbul and many musicians contributed to the celebrations with their compositions. One interesting example was by the musician and scholar of Turkish traditional music, Burhan Kul, who declared a new genre named ayinçe (small rite) with a similar structure to traditional Mevlevi ayini compositions but way shorter timespan for performance. The composition was named “Yedi Öğüt” (Seven Commandments):

New age composer Can Atilla joined the celebrations with his oratorio dedicated to the 800th year. The eleven-part composition also had a structure similar to a Mevlevi ayini composition, but the involvement of an orchestra and choir created a totally different sonic experience:

A similar orchestral touch was experienced with the orchestration by conductor Musa Göçmen over the “Acembuselik Mevlevi Ayini” by Nâsır Abdülbâkî Dede (1765-1820). After the premiere in Antalya, the project “Senfonik Sema” (Symphonic Whirling) was staged in the following years in different cities:

The ney player and DJ Mercan Dede (Arkın Allen) also dedicated an album to Rumi, naming not only the album but also one composition as “800”. The electronic sound featuring rapper Ceza brought a radically innovative perspective to the celebrations:

In two years’ time, the celebrations were long over but attaching new musical experiments to whirling dervishes did not come to an end. Doruk Somunkıran’s project “Sufi Klipler” (Sufi videoclips) was aired on state television during the Ramadan of 2009, which featured hard rock musician Hayko Cepkin singing a Bektashi hymn with the company of whirling dervishes. His non-traditional image with a blue mohawk was welcome with messages of tolerance during that time and the electric guitars in the background did not arouse huge debates on the preservation of authentic Mevlevi sound. However, this appreciation does not mean that the authenticity debate will ever cease to exist.

Nevin Şahin completed her PhD in Sociology in 2016 upon her research on music and power among performers of Mevlevi music. She worked in several research projects, including a comparative theoretical research on makam music and Byzantine music. In 2018, she joined the Corpus Musicae Ottomanicae team at the Orient-Institut Istanbul.

Citation: Şahin, Nevin. “‘Blue mohawk and the whirling dervish: a glimpse into contemporary Mevlevi soundscapes,” Orient-Institut Istanbul Blog, 25 September 2020.