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Interview with Eren Aksahin about modal Improvisation on Anatolian music.

Jazz music nowadays is heading an era with more and more diversity and mix of musical styles and cultures. Musicians are looking into their roots and/or other cultures to enrich their music. Crossover projects are arising with great interest from the audience and that was an extra reason that motivated me to look into my roots.

Besides that, my goal during my master studies at Codarts in the Netherlands, was to develop my own sound by applying Greek folk ornamentations to my modal jazz improvisations as well as to use my voice as a instrument in terms of phrasing and articulation and reach the same level as an instrumentalist in improvisation.

Therefore, apart from my research in modal jazz improvisation, I also researched the eastern Mediterranean sound colors/ornamentations and improvisation methods, and I interviewed Eren Akşahin to get more information and knowledge about the modal improvisation in Eastern Mediterranean/Anatolian music were a part of Greek folk music is belonging too.

Eren Akşahin is a Bağlama interpreter and a composer. His music, a synthesis between Anatolian folklore and Western classical timbres, may be called contemporary Anatolian folk music. It is characterised by a strong sensitivity and authenticity for the foundations of Anatolian folk music, as well as by an emphasis on beauty of sound and innovation on his own instrument.

Hereby, I present you the interview that it was held in 2020 during my second year of Master at Codarts. Eren helped me to open my borders to other musical cultures and sound colors similar to those of my homeland and fuse them with jazz in order to create my own sound and identity as a singer.

If you are interested in the topic, check also my master thesis exposition; the lesson that I had with Eren Akşahin and the process of developing my personal sound through this exploration/fusion of genres.

I would like to deeply thank Eren Akşahin for giving such valuable answers to my questions and helping me out through this process of finding my personal sound.

Enjoy the read!

1.​ ​What is the function of ornamentation in Eastern Mediterranean music?

Ornaments have several functions. In eastern Mediterranean music they are used most commonly to create musical expressiveness. It is an element of individual artistic expression therefore it is not specifically noted where to use a specific ornament. Similar to the use of ornamentation in Baroque music it is up to the performer to choose the place, the form and often the length of the ornament.

In eastern Maqam based music the mode and its melodic behavior is giving hints and clues about a suitable ornamentation. Apart from this function it is a popular tool for musicians to create variation if the performed composition has many repetitive melodies or create recognition if the melodies differ a lot. In Ottoman classical music (which can be seen as Mediterranean music) the ornamentations serve also as essential functional elements to execute the modes accordingly.

Every step of the Maqam has a different gravity or dominance, which often is accentuated by the use of a more, or less complex ornament. Starting from simple glissandi, trills, Parallel and mordant going to long and more complex marco melodic lines which incorporate different ornamentation techniques. The ornamentation often contains various degrees of musical information. It can anticipate the melodic development of the piece that has yet to be performed.

2.​ ​How do you approach soloing on a maqam? How do you build a solo?

If the improvised solo is part of a composition, usually start to approach the solo from the composition and its Maqam. For example: If I am confronted with a composition in Hijaz, I already know the mode. I hear where the modal dominants are and can build an improvisation around these gravity points. I know that it is using a hijaz tetrachord (phrygian#3) from the tonic to the 4t​hdegree. There it has its strong dominant so I know I can open my improvisation inside this tetrachord. I will listen to the melody of the composition and make a motive to create a connection and then develop the solo. Eventually the upper Penta chord will follow and some alterations and modulations to give some taste of connected modes. From there I could lead the mode back to the original and connect it to the original composition.

3.How do you practice improvisation for Anatolian folk music?

I think the best way to practice Maqam improvisation is to listen to some musicians. Many times, writing the transcription of these recordings helps to understand what is going on. A good strategy is to categorize the findings so that the musical toolbox is easy to use.

4.Which singers or instrumentalists do you recommend to listen in order to improve my eastern Mediterranean improvisations?

For ornamentations I recommend listening to Zarali Halil who was an Anatolian folk music singer with an extraordinary use of ornaments. Also, to listen to classical Ottoman ney players such as Kudsi Erguner, Neyzen Tehfik, Omer Erdogdular.

5.Do you know any singers who combine Anatolian with Jazz or western music?

Singers: Julide Ozcelik, Golnar Sahyar, Birsen Tezer, Husnu Arikan, Erkan Ogur, Erden Eroglu Instrumentalists: Erkan Ogur, Tigran Hamasyan, Ibrahim Maalouf, Dhaffer Youssef, Cenk Erdogan, Taksim Trio

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