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His Music Blends Mysticism with Visions of Peace


March 28, 2002

His music blends mysticism with vision of peace

sentinel staff writer

Sometimes all you have to do is nothing and the music suggests itself. — Omar Faruk Tekbilek
He learned to draw pictures with music while studying with saxophonist Ismet Siral. On his newest CD, “Alif” (Love Supreme), Omar Faruk Tekbilek has drawn a masterpiece. Faruk will share those musical pictures when he plays his combination of traditional Sufi, folk and contemporary Turkish music on Saturday night at the Rio Theatre. Also a Muslim priest, Faruk blends mysticism with a vision of peace, practiced in his pan-global musical collaborations. For this recording, Faruk brought together musicians from Bulgaria, Spain, Greece, the United States, Turkey, Israel and Persia to create a beautiful tribute to the three aspects of love: divine love, romantic love and love of life.
Faruk is a virtuoso on the nay (bamboo flute), the zurna (a double-reed oboe-like instrument), the baglama (the long-necked lute), percussion and voice. For Saturday’s concert, Faruk’s band includes a very special guest — and according to Faruk, his favorite reason for coming to Santa Cruz — local percussionist and owner of Rhythm Fusion, Dror Sinai. We talked with him about the tree of patience, the library of the world and the chaos of the mind.

You studied to be a Muslim priest. What made you decide to leave that study?

Omar Faruk Tekbilek: Even though I left school, I never quit studying. I had spent seven years in school and received a diploma as a priest. I can lead ceremonies. But I could not afford to stay in school. But thank God I am a musician, which gives me freedom and expression. I believe that life is an open school. There are libraries all over the world. The world is a library. All we have to do is focus. It’s up to us.

You had a teacher who encouraged you to draw pictures with your music. What picture are you drawing with your new CD?

Faruk: I am building up in my mind the tree of patience. I have come to the conclusion that all Mediterranean culture is based in the same root. We have so much in common and have always been integrated, all based on the same thing. The patience is to see the tree growing every day with practice, right attitude, water and dedication. And now we are eating the fruit of that tree.

What’s happening musically in Turkey right now?

Faruk: Everything is happening there. There is folk music, which is distinct in all of the regions of the country; religious music rooted in Sufi tradition; and Turkish classical music cultivated in the King’s palace. Our classical music is actually the music of three cultures: Armenian, Greek and Turkish, from when this was all one country.
Then there is Turkish Arabesque music. It is the Arabic influence on Turkish music. This approach to music was adopted by many composers from the ’70s into the ’90s.
It was a hot time in Turkey. My brother and I had a big part in that. The folk musicians thought Arabesque music was a fad. They said, “Oh you are ruining our music.”
But it’s in our blood. We hear it once, and we want to hear it all of our lives. Now they have accepted it.

How much influence does Western culture have on middle eastern music?

Faruk: Our first president tried to Westernize the country by opening people’s minds to new aspects. A school of western music opened in Turkey in 1938; and our music, which is based on the modal system, started adopting the harmonic. I get my best influence from Greek music because they are in the middle. They are the bridge. Their second line helps us to understand harmony.
Our traditional approach has been to see everything as melodic, but now we’re trying to put in a second and third voice. I also studied the jazz tradition, and my teacher had the books of Gene Krupa, which I studied.

How often do you get back to Turkey?

Faruk: I go every two or three years. My mother and brothers are there.
I gave my first concert in Istanbul last year. It was very overwhelming. I cried on stage. It’s a beautiful feeling going back to my country.

What’s the most important thing to you right now?

Faruk: To not lose my connection with myself. I pray, please let me be myself. As soon as you are caught up in your mind and worrying about what is coming, you start seeing life as a problem to solve and everything becomes chaos. As soon as you are blocking these things with silence and meditation, everything calms down and becomes simple again.
I feel very lucky to have this attitude. My father gave this to me. He said, “Always say, ‘Who?’ ” It cleans the breath and clears the muck in you.

What’s next?

Faruk: Keep breathing. Enjoy what life brings us.

Contact Nancy Redwine at
Omar Faruk Tekbilek and Ensemble
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz.
TICKETS: $15. $17 at the door.
INFO: 423-2048.

207 Church Street, Santa Cruz CA 95060 USA (831) 423-4242
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