Inner harmony with Turkish ney master Kudsi Erguner
Mantras of compassion with Ani Choying Drolma
Songs of deliverance by folk singer Tim Eriksen
Intoxicated by song, with Parvathy Baul
Mbira music for healing by Fradreck Mujuru
Time taken : >15mins
Filmed in Paris, Erguner presents a prayer from the Mevlevi tradition on the Turkish ney for Esplanade’s A Tapestry of Sacred Music, in the hope that it would help bring inner harmony and peace to all amid this pandemic. The Mevlevis are also known as the “whirling dervishes” because of their practice of whirling in worship at Sama, a Sufi ceremony performed as dhikr (remembrance). In 2008, the Mevlevi Sama Ceremony was recognised as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The Turkish ney is a reed flute that is the primary instrument in Mevlevi Sufi ceremonies and features prominently in classical Turkish music. Its distinctive feature is its bashpare (mouthpiece), which can be made using brass, tortoise shell, fibreglass, hardwood, water buffalo horns or plastic. The Turkish ney is relatively more difficult to play compared to other flutes or reed instruments – an initiate could take weeks to create a sound, but a skilled neyzen (one who plays the Turkish ney) can produce around 100 tones in a two-and-a-half octave range or more.
Musician, composer, musicologist, teacher and author Kudsi Erguner is one of the foremost ney (Turkish reed flute) masters of our time and an authority of traditional Sufi music who has introduced Ottoman and Sufi music to the world.
Born in Diyarbakır into a family of musicians following the Sufi tradition, Erguner is the only Turkish musician of his generation to learn the ney in the classic aural tradition. Erguner began his musical career in 1969 as a member of the Istanbul Radio Orchestra. In 1975, he moved to Paris to study architecture and musicology. In his work as a musical anthropologist and historian, Erguner has published many field recordings of traditional music, and made studio recordings of music from the 16th century Ottoman repertoire.
Erguner has performed and collaborated with a wide range of internationally celebrated artists including Robert Wilson, Peter Brook, Alexandre Desplat, Nusret Fathi Ali Khan, and ensembles like the Hillard Ensemble and the New Ensemble. Based in Paris, he has also released more than a hundred CDs dedicated to different aspects of Ottoman music, and published books in French.
In 1981, Erguner founded the RUMI association, an institute for the study of the classical music and teachings of the original traditions of Sufis. He gives conferences on Sufism and Sufi music all over the world and leads two small communities connected to the Mevlevi tradition; one in Paris and one in Istanbul. In 2014, Erguner was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Bulent Ecevit University in Turkey and was designated a UNESCO Artist for Peace in 2016. He is a professor at the Rotterdam Conservatory (CODARTS), and conducts master classes (Birun) at the Giorgio Cini Foundation in Venice.
He performed in Singapore with the Kudsi Erguner Ensemble at Esplanade Concert Hall as part of Esplanade’s A Tapestry of Sacred Music in 2018.
In the verdant hilltops of Nepal, the calm and powerful voice of Buddhist nun Ani Choying Drolma echoes with compassion through songs of healing and protection. An international name whose reputation for her humanitarian efforts precedes her, Ani’s response to Esplanade’s festival, A Tapestry of Sacred Music, in the midst of a pandemic are two Buddhist chants associated with compassion. This musical postcard embodies her well wishes for all.
Namo Ratna Traya-ya is a healing mantra invokes the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. This meditative chant purifies negative karmas and provides protection and healing, and therefore is believed to have immeasurable benefits for all sentient beings.
Om Tare Tutare is a mantra that embodies the essence of Mother Tara, the mother of all buddhas and one of the most beloved deities, especially in Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana). Deemed a female figure, Tara is considered a goddess of compassion who protects her devotees from calamities. Her most common manifestations are the Green Tara or White Tara. “Tara” is Sanskrit for star and thus, the bodhisattva allegorises the North Star, guiding the lost and saving the faithful by showing them the way to enlightenment. It is believed that reciting the sacred Om Tare Tutare mantra aids in overcoming our outer and inner obstacles, especially those unbeknownst to ourselves.
Ani Choying Drolma
Ani Choying Drolma is a Buddhist nun from Nepal, known for her humanitarian work in providing education for young girls, caring for the elderly and offering medical services for the underprivileged.
Discovered by an American guitarist Steve Tibbets in 1997, her first album Cho featured her mesmerising chanting with accompaniment. Because of its success, Ani was able to continue recording music and has since brought traditional Buddhist chants into the modern world, alongside Nepali and Buddhist songs. She has performed worldwide to support her charitable missions and take her humanitarian efforts to a much larger scale. Ani founded of the Arya Tara School in 2000, providing nuns with the abilities and skills to serve their communities, in an effort to educate girls in rural areas of Asia who still do not have access to education. She is also the author of Singing for Freedom, an autobiography that chronicles her rise to international fame and her humanitarian work.
Ani performed at Esplanade’s A Tapestry of Sacred Music festival in 2014 at the Esplanade Concert Hall in Singapore with Steve Tibbets and March Anderson.
Tim Eriksen presents two ancient hymns in the Sacred Harp singing tradition against a wintry backdrop of the pastoral Western Massachusetts, United States, in response to Esplanade’s festival, A Tapestry of Sacred Music. In the theme of deliverance, especially in this period of a pandemic, both songs are about experiencing hardship and overcoming it through faith.
In Sacred Harp singing, there is no harp. Sung a cappella with no instruments at all, this tradition of sacred choral music is full-bodied singing in a four-part harmony. The result is a distinct Americana sound that is both raw and powerful.
Sacred Harp originated in New England centuries ago, as Protestant music, and found its roots in the American South in the late 1700s. The name “Sacred Harp” is derived from an historically important tune book The Sacred Harp, published in 1844, which was printed in shape notes (shapes added to noteheads in written music to help singers identify pitches).
Solitude in the Grove
Written by Isaac Watts, 1719
Music by Ananias Davisson, 1817
Lyrics by Anne Steele, 1760
Tune in Southern Harmony, 1835
Tim Eriksen is recognised for transforming the American folk tradition with his bold interpretations of ballads, love songs, shape note gospels and dance tunes from New England and Southern Appalachia. He combines vocals with the banjo, fiddle, guitar and bajo sexto (twelve-string Mexican acoustic bass), creating a unique hardcore Americana sound that ranges from bare-boned vocals to lush and layered arrangements.
Eriksen’s music has featured in films such as Ray McKinnon’s Chrystal and the documentary Behold the Earth. Also notable are his contributions to the music of Anthony Minghella's Oscar-winning film Cold Mountain, and to the 2010 Grammy-nominated album Across the Divide by Afro-Cuban world jazz pianist Omar Sosa. Eriksen has also collaborated extensively beyond his American roots, in diverse projects ranging from hardcore punk to Bosnian pop and duets with artists such as Esma Redžepova, queen of Romani music and dance and English folk musician Eliza Carthy. He was the former frontman of folk-noise band Cordelia’s Dad, shape note quartet Northampton Harmony and Bosnian folk-pop outfit Žabe i Babe.
Eriksen last performed in Singapore at Esplanade’s A Tapestry of Sacred Music festival in 2014 at the Esplanade Recital Studio with Singapore vocal group Vox Camerata.
Expressing herself in rhapsodic song and dance is Parvathy Baul, the most recognised female Baul performer in the world.
She expresses a poem written—with subtle wit, she believes—in dedication to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, affectionately known as Gauranga because of his fair and molten gold countenance. A 15th century Indian saint whom devotees consider an incarnation of the deity Krishna, Chaitanya's influence on Bengali culture is significant—his mode of worship of Krishna in ecstatic song and dance has had a profound effect on Vaishnavism, one of the major Hindu denominations in Bengal.
Parvathy chose to perform this song as part of Esplanade's A Tapestry of Sacred Music in our prolonged atmosphere of uncertainty, because it has resonated with her in her meetings with other Baul practitioners and in her contemplation of the path in search of the Divine.
The Bauls are a group of mystic folk singers or minstrels from the Bengal region, who constitute both a religious sect and musical tradition, and are part of the culture of rural Bengal. Their members are largely Vaishnava-Sahajiyas (devotees who practice a niche Tantric tradition) and Sufis (practitioners who expound on mysticism within Islam). The Baul tradition has been recognised in 2005 as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
As the most renowned female Baul performer in the world, Parvathy Baul is a practitioner, performer and teacher of the Baul tradition from Bengal, India. She is also an instrumentalist, storyteller and painter. She has performed in over 40 countries, including prestigious concert halls and music festivals such as the Noh Theater in Kyoto, the World Music Center in New York City, and the Festival of World Sacred Music in Fez, Morocco.
Parvathy’s technical virtuosity—her mastery of vocal pitch and tone while playing multiple instruments and dancing—has been lauded by music experts. The depth of her mesmerising performance is rooted in her deep spiritual practice, and is described by critics as “riveting” and “spellbinding”.
Parvathy’s performance work emerges from a long lineage of master Baul singers, dancers, and spiritual teachers. She studied closely with two of the most respected Baul singer-gurus of the previous generation, Sri Sanatan Das Thakur Baul and Sri Shoshanko Goshai. She was recognised by her gurus as both a musical and spiritual teacher in the Baul tradition, carrying forward their spiritual legacy.
She is a tireless advocate for the preservation and renewal of the tradition and frequently makes use of her international reputation to promote lesser-known master performers. Her efforts in bringing women more opportunities to train in the traditional Baul arts have also been unprecedented. Parvathy has recorded five music CDs and published a book on the Baul tradition through Ekathara Kalari, her non-profit institution which promotes ancient Indian spiritual traditions, with an emphasis on Baul arts and practices.
Mbira music speaks to the Shona peoples’ ancestors and tribal guardians, whose counsel is sought on community matters, the weather and health. A mbira player, also called a gwenyambira, is considered a tool of the spirits, who may be called on at all times of the day and night to invoke the spirits.
All the way from Zimbabwe, internationally known mbira artist Fradreck Mujuru plays music for healing with his uncle Fungai Zhanje Mujuru. He sends his wishes as part of Esplanade’s A Tapestry of Sacred Music, in response to the pandemic.
The Calabash (bottle gourd) shells (deze) act as amplifiers and bottle tops, shells or shakers can be added to its rim to alter its sound. Within the deze, usually hidden from view is the mbira held securely in place by a stick. The mbira, sometimes referred to as a thumb piano, consists of 22 to 28 metal keys set on a gwariva, which is a soundboard made from the Mubvamaropa tree.
The space for improvisation and style in a mbira performance has been likened to that of jazz, where there are extensive possibilities for rhythmic and melodic variation. A Shona mbira piece of music typically consists of a basic patterned with numerous intertwined melodies and contrasting rhythms. When two mbiras are played together, each musician plays a different interlocking part, and in a traditional duet, there is typically a kushaura (leading) part and kutsinhira (intertwining) part. Mbira music is often cyclical, and every piece has no set beginning or end.
Fradreck “Mukanya” Mujuru was born into a Shona family with a long history of playing and making the mbira in Zimbabwe. He is sometimes addressed by his clan name Mukanya. Like many aspiring mbira players, he attended traditional ceremonies where he pestered the elders to teach him. He started playing the instrument at the age of eight and was performing at ceremonies by the time he was 15. In 1981, he taught himself how to make mbiras.
Fradreck toured Europe and South Africa in the 1990s and has taught and performed in the United States, having taken up residencies at Grinnell College, Williams College, and the University of Michigan. Today, he is a highly respected musician as well as one of the greatest living mbira-makers. His instruments are played all over the world.
The mbira master performed in Singapore at the Esplanade Concourse and conducted a mbira playing workshop as part of A Tapestry of Sacred Music in 2017.