Saturday, 21 May 2011

Cigdem Aslan sings Rebetiko

Upstairs at Ritzy (the cinema in Brixton) was the venue for the Cigdem Aslan Trio last Wednesday.  True to form for musicians, there were four performers; Cigdem herself on vocals, Meg Hamilton (also of Kosmos and She'Koyokh) on violin, Angelos on bouzouki and Pavlos on guitar.

Rebetiko is a relatively new music form, emerging in the 1960's, combining Greek folk traditions and Turkish (Ottoman) caf√© music.  It has been described as a Greek/Turkish blues, mainly due to lyrics, not the music itself.  Plenty of info in the 'net.

The venue itself is quite small and intimate, a perfect setting for the four-piece trio, Garth Cartwright provided the music while we waited for the performance.

The music itself was new to me, plaintive songs of loss and love from Smyrna and Istanbul, the guitar providing a pulsing rhythm, the bouzouki accompanies and complements the voice, the violin answering the guitar and at times almost vocal itself.  At the heart of the songs is the voice.  The audience were given brief introductions to each song, such as the song where a boy compares his love to an orange in turkish, but an apple in greek (or maybe it was the other way around).  Or the song where the boy has to sneak around to see his girlfriend, but he must be careful of her mother "because mediterranean mothers are hardcore" explained Pavlos.

I found it strange that the music itself sounded so different from what we usually listen to un the UK and the US today, bearing in mind that pretty much all of 'western' music is derived from greek 'modes'.  The Turkish songs in the set didn't sound any different than the Greek songs musically, only the language of the lyrics.  At some point, I really must ask Cigdem how many languages she sings in!

I swear, at one point, Angelos either sprouted an extra two fingers on each hand, or slowed time down for himself.  His fingers blurred on the bouzouki and made my inner guitar player wither and die for a moment.  A similar experience watching Pavlos on guitar.  Meg Harrison obviously loves playing, this is the third time I've seen her play in two weeks.  Viola with Kosmos, violin with She'Koyokh and violin tonight.  The same is true of Cigdem, she sings constantly from what I can gather, thank goodness.

The only song title I remember is 'Emine' and that's because it was dedicated to the young lady of the same name sitting next to me, who kindly provided the photos you see here.  The musicianship of these four people was of a very high standard, and yet the atmosphere was much more relaxed than you would find at many recitals or 'classical' music performances.  They seemed to be enjoying the performance as much as the audience.

These days, it's easy to find new music to listen to, if you have a computer and some idea what you are looking for.  I suggest you have a look for Rebetiko, keep any eye out for Cigdem, Meg, Angelos and Pavlos for further performances, and search out She'Koyokh for their next performance near you.

After the gig, I got to the tube at Brixton, stuck Dylan's 'Blonde on Blonde' on the ipod and opened a book.  A couple of minutes later, a rag-tag bunch of musicians and friends piled into the carriage.  Within about 60 seconds they had their instruments out and the gig continued.  They're probably still northbound on the Victoria Line, and probably still entertaining confused tourists.  We need more people like this and more people should listen to music that is new to them.

Thanks to Emine Arikan for the photos.

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