23rd Istanbul Jazz Festival inaugurated on June 27, Monday night, at Cemil Topuzlu Open Air Theatre, with a 2-hour-long grand concert, evoking the “Eastern Carnaval” spirit. Maybe the musics played were pretty far from the typical soundscape of jazz, but the experience they brought was pure jazz!
The programme opened like a fasıl (a suite of traditional tunes) with rather slow choir pieces and improvisations (taksims), then boiled up with Mounir Troudi, the Tunisian Arabic music singer, an old collaborator of jazz men like Erik Truffaz in European festivals. The cascading tour-de-force of Troudi’s voice inevitably made me ask how many opera singers could dare to compete wth him.
Meanwhile, numerous authentic North African music instruments were among the stars of this “Eastern Carnaval”. So, this late Ramazan night, the opening concert of the festival, was painted in vivacious colors by these instruments. We listened the ardine, a nine-string harp, of the Mauritanian singer Noura Mint Seymali; the small and crystal sounding spike lute, ngoni, of Bassekou Kouyaté, who shone on stage in his authentic Malian costume; and the kora –or should we say the prow of a mythological ship!– of the Senegalese musician Seckou Keita. And after hearing the trading solos I said to myself, “Yes, this is dimension of jazz”.
With the Syrian rap singer Bu Kolthoum, the Arab hip-hop artist Eslam Jawaad, and the experimental songs Jolia Holter interpreted with her Nord Stage organ, this jazz-spirited experience deepened with other expressive, or even, sentimental layers. But I wish, they could project the Turkish or English translation of what Bu Kolthoum was saying –unless uttered in the spur of a moment– on the back screen. With the barcovision just mentioned, in this project, whose creative director was Mike Smith, the destruction and traumas that the Syrian civilians have suffered were articulated on this screen through metaphorical illustrations and animations.
At the end of the night, when Rachid Taha, the Moroccan singer and world ambassador of rai music got on stage with his black felt hat and sang his hit “Ya Rahay” (I was amazed to hear how many people could sing its lyrics by heart), clapping, belly-dancing and even ululating, the Turkish audience and around 300 Syrians –according to the report of İKSV (Istanbul Foundation for Arts and Culture)– who packed the venue, were intoxicated with joy.
At that night, on my way back home, I thought that Istanbul is such a unique city that it could survive even a volley of bombs, and that’s why, it seems to me, the “African Express Presents: The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians” Project, in its compact 6-concert world tour, found its sweet home at last.