Istanbul hosts 2011 Jazz in Ramadan festival


An innovative jazz fest brings together music and religion.

By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 08/08/11


Crowds gathered in the courtyard of Topkapi Palace to enjoy the 2010 Jazz in Ramadan festival. [Hakan Erdogan Productions]

During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Turkey's main cultural and artistic centre, Istanbul, will host renowned Muslim jazz musicians at a unique event named Jazz in Ramadan.

The festival will take place from August 16th to 23rd, and host well-known jazz names such as Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner with Gary Bartz, and Anouar Brahem. This festival differs from other jazz events in that all performers come from the same religious background -- they are Muslims.

"I prefer Muslim musicians to draw attention to and associate them directly with Ramadan. So, it is important for the performers at the festival to be a part of Islamic culture," Festival organiser Hakan Erdogan told daily Today's Zaman.

The festival, first organised in 2010 when Istanbul was the European Capital of Culture, aims to bring about the ideal of social peace and reconciliation, which constitutes the spirit of Ramadan. Last year the festival drew over 10,000 people.

Two important historic and open-air venues are selected to recreate the cultural ambiance of Ramadan: the Topkapi Palace courtyard and the garden of Yildiz Palace.

Talking to SETimes, well-known Turkish jazz artist Kerem Gorsev says he finds it fascinating to listen to jazz in the surroundings of Topkapi Palace's courtyard, where centuries ago Ottoman sultans used to stroll.

The audience will have the opportunity to break their daylong fast, iftar, one hour before each Jazz performance begins.

Jazz in Ramadan festival is the first of its kind in the world, blending religion and jazz across centuries and musical cultures to demonstrate the possibility of peace and harmony.

Affirming that the festival will gather only Muslim artists, Gorsev rejects the idea that music is confined by religion or other boundaries, but is rather a universal phenomenon.

Turkish soprano and musicologist Cimen Seymen agrees. As a free and unique musical product, classical jazz is not bound by any cultural or geographical borders. However, talking to SETimes, Seymen wonders why only Muslim jazz composers were invited to the festival.

Entertainment has always been an important element of the Ramadan tradition in Turkey, says the organiser. Yet, the concept of jazz is certainly an innovative contribution to the observance of Ramadan.

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Erdogan says the festival audience is a result of globalisation, a reason he attributes to the declining popularity of shows like Hacivat-Karagoz, the traditional Anatolian shadow puppet theatre associated with Ramadan.

"When a genre like jazz is spreading the world over, the world will 'filtrate' itself in various ways," Erdogan points out in the introduction of the festival brochure.

In the introduction to 2010 Jazz in Ramadan, Turkish intellectual Murat Belge explained the festival's fusion of global sounds and the spirit of Ramadan.

"The habit of saying 'this is mine that is not' has been replaced with 'everything belongs to us all.'"

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