Anatolian folk songs revisited

Turkish trio Arpanatolia brings together Anatolian folk songs and the modern Western harmonic system.| Photo courtesy of Arpanatolia.

To celebrate the Turkish National Sovereignty and Children’s Day, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey and the Turkish Consulate General in Vancouver presents Arpanatolia, the Turkey-based musical, at the Chan Centre Apr. 24.

“The Turkish government is inviting children from all around the world, every April 23rd, to celebrate it all together. We are trying to continue that tradition,” says Anil Inan, Turkish Consul General of Vancouver.

Arpanatolia brings the Anatolian past to the present. The trio, comprised of Çağatay Akyol (harp), Ferhat Erdem (Anatolian instruments) and Cemal Ozkiziltas (percussion) brings together Anatolian folk songs, many of which have been around for millenia, with the modern Western harmonic system, showcasing a long and rich history of Anatolian culture through music.

A history with the harp

Since he was a child, Akyol knew that he wanted to become a musician, but up until his first day at his music conservatory, he had his eyes set on the violin. His instructors stated that only right-handed people could play violin, and since Akyol is left-handed he was forced to pick another instrument. Sensing that Akyol was unimpressed by the other options, the harp instructor asked if he would be interested in becoming a student of the harp. Akyol, having overheard a conversation describing the instrument earlier that day, agreed despite never having seen the instrument.

“The harp teacher asked me, ‘Would you like to play harp?’ I said ‘yes’, and she asked me what it looked like,” says Akyol. “And I heard a bit about it at the door [of the conservatory], so I said ‘it’s like a triangle, with the strings and such’ and she said, ‘Congratulations, then I’ll take you!’”

Playing the harp for nearly 40 years, Akyol is the second ever known male harpist from Turkey and has built a lengthy career of performance roles, including current solo harpist for the Turkish Presidential Symphony Orchestra, a position he has held since he was 19, as well as being the harpist for Arpanatolia.

A ‘kitchen’ of music

Founded nearly five years ago, Arpanatolia has pursued the goal of bringing the past to the present. By showcasing folks songs and instruments that date back to the Hittite empire (founded around 3600 years ago), Akyol aims to bring that era of music to audiences today.

“Arpanatolia has a mission, I can say, because we are playing Anatolian music, our traditional music, our folk songs, which means we move the history of these pieces from the past to the future. We try to remember for the people, from their past and for the future also. Generally, music is a bridge from the past to the future,” he says.

Akyol feels that each song is like telling a piece of Anatolian history to the audience through a part of its own culture, so to help contextualize the music, the trio divulges a bit of the history behind each song before performing it.

“Arpanatolia is not only a concert, but also a kind of lecture, a musical lecture, you could say, because each of the pieces is telling the history of the song to the people,” says Akyol.

For Aykol, the richness of Anatolian history and culture shines through its music, and it’s a richness you can find no matter which part of its culture you look at.

“We have very rich culture: if you look at a country to their food, to their ‘kitchen,’ you can see how they live,” he says. “So we have incredible foods, and for each village you can find 30, 40 different [ones], which means you have a rich culture. So Arpanatolia has the likeness of a kind of ‘kitchen’ of music.”

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