Music of the Sultans,
Sufis & Seraglio, Vol. III:
Minority Composers

(Traditional Crossroads, 2001)

Lalezar is a music ensemble based in Istanbul, Turkey. They are at the forefront of a revival of music from the Ottoman Empire. Out of the four volumes from the Traditional Crossroads series Music of the Sultans, Sufis & Seraglio, this review focuses on Vol. III: Minority Composers. Seventeen songs reveal the musical treasures of composers from a variety of backgrounds including Armenian, Greek and even Jewish heritage. The works presented here were created from as early as the late 1600s to as recently as the early 1900s.

The Lalezar ensemble consists of four musicians and three vocalists. Ensemble director Reha Sagbas plays the kanun (a zither which is a 30- or 40-string instrument that is plucked with a plectrum). Hasan Esen plays the kemence (a small upright three-stringed fiddle). Murat Salim Tokac showcases his talent on the ney (a reed flute which has a bone mouthpiece), as well as the tanbur (a stringed instrument with a round body and an extremely long, thin neck). Fahreddin Yarkin is in charge of percussion using the daire (a tambourine of sorts), as well as the kudum (a small metal kettledrum). Vocalists include Selma Sagbas (wife of ensemble director, Reha), Mustafa Dogan Dikmen and Ahmet Erdogdular.

The music, while representing more than a 200-year time span, has a similar feel throughout. Typically, the songs consist of a rising/falling rhythm with a vocal resonance at back of the throat that makes the singers' voices waver and vibrate. The tempo is rather slow. Vol. III: Minority Composers contains five songs with male vocals, three with female vocals, four songs with both male and female vocals, and five instrumental tunes. I should point out that while Selma certainly has talent, when she sings by herself her voice sounds too much like opera for my taste. However, I believe she harmonizes rather well with the two male singers. Topics in the songs range from the emperor, love, death, happiness to woe telling stories of sadness.

This CD comes with a 40-page insert that contains extensive information. There are eight pages just on the origin and traditions of Ottoman Music! There is detailed information about the background of the various composers and even pictures of six of them. Lyrics are translated into English. The best section explains the history of the various instruments in detail including modifications and enhancements made over time. I almost felt like I was looking at the textbook from an Ottoman Empire Music Appreciation class.

Lalezar's Music of the Sultans, Sufis & Seraglio, Vol. III: Minority Composers is a CD that will only appeal to a select group of people. This is not a CD for those of you who like their ethnic music laced with a nice techno beat (such as Deep Forest). This is a very serious piece of work. This is not a CD that will entice you to dance. It is a CD that will force you to focus your mind on the music. If you have a short attention span, this recording is not for you. If you like classical music or opera, or would appreciate an introduction to music from an Empire that is no more, then, by all means, support Lalezar as they re-introduce the Ottoman Empire to the world through music.

[ by Wil Owen ]

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