The sounds of exquisite, exhilarating and inspiring harmonies filled Beşkaza Square and the Culture Centre in Fethiye, Turkey recently.

From 7th – 11th May 2014, despite the most consistently wet weather for several months, Fethiye was treated to four concerts, lasting late into the evening, celebrating world-class music from 11 diverse cultures, including Turkey, Iran, Malaysia, Spain, Morocco, USA, Kazakhstan, the UK, and Serbia. Audiences were also entertained by extraordinary dance, tumbling and acrobatics from Russia, Turkey, Mongolia and Kenya.

Gymnasts from Mongolia perform at the Fethiye World Music Festival.
Gymnasts from Mongolia perform at the Fethiye World Music Festival.

Fethiye A Great Location

The Mediterranean town of Fethiye is usually warm and sunny by the beginning of May but on this occasion the unwelcome threat of cloudbursts limited the use of the massive outdoor stage, especially constructed for the event. Nevertheless Fethiye was still able to become a harmonious global village, in the musical sense, and those who ventured out on the nights when rain threatened were treated to some phenomenal performances in the town’s small theatre. Thankfully, on the last night everyone was able to enjoy an unforgettable al fresco evening of marvellous entertainment.

Celebrating musical and cultural diversity

Over the four evenings, Fethiye Times’ roving reporter spoke with some of the musicians, including Scott Jeffers from the Arizona band, Traveler and Jamie Wilson, lead guitarist with Malaysian band, AkashA. Both were enthusiastic about coming to Fethiye. For Jeffers, this was his second visit and once again being able to meet so many talented and friendly people, as well as playing at various venues in and around Fethiye, was for him a ‘fantastic treat’.

Scott Jeffers of Traveler played at Fethiye World Music Festival 2014
Scott Jeffers of Traveler played at Fethiye World Music Festival 2014

“I am intrigued by Turkish music and culture,” said the energetic fiddle player, “and last year decided to come to Turkey anyway. I contacted Serdar Oğuz, the coordinator of the Fethiye festival, and when I heard from him, he said he liked our [Traveler’s] music, so we made it happen.” Going to the same festival two years running was unusual he said, but he and the rest of the band have now developed a loyal fan club in Turkey.

Video of Traveler

Like Malaysia, AkashA is a combination of cultures: Malay, China, India and the west. Their music, which they describe as fusion, combines various cultural influences from jazz and the blues with guitar, bass and piano, the twang of the sitar and the chatter of eastern sounds and percussion. Relaxed and friendly, Wilson said that they had enjoyed their trip to Fethiye enormously and certainly his lively repartee engaged with and entertained the audience. Wilson and Jeffers independently agreed that this was the most diverse world music festival in which they’d played.

AkashA played at the Fethiye World Music Festival 2014
AkashA played at the Fethiye World Music Festival 2014

Traveler’s guitarist, Ryan Picone, succinctly summed up their thoughts, saying, “The most incredible thing about this festival is meeting people from other parts of the world. The music, together with dance; it is really incredible.”

Global rhythms to lift the spirit

Mohamed Elsansali, echoed their thoughts. A member of the Moroccan group, Imdiazen, Elsansali, and the other members of the group are Gnawa.

7th Fethiye Arts and Culture Festival - Imdiazen Band on Stage 9 May 2014
7th Fethiye Arts and Culture Festival – Imdiazen Band on Stage 9 May 2014

Coming to Fethiye for the first time “from a tiny place between Marrakech and Agadir called Imintanoute,” in the Atlas Mountains, the Gnawa are considered an ethnic group as well as a mystical Sufi order. Their religious and spiritual components are usually expressed through song and dance based on their ancestral memory and origins.

Video of Imdiazen

For Elsansali and his group, which includes his brother Jemal, it was “a happy, family event. What we do is a duty but a good one: bringing our music to humanity and joining people from all over the world together in harmony. We have experienced wonderful people, wonderful food and wonderful music.” The audience certainly showed their appreciation for Imdiazen’s gentle, hypnotic rhythms.

A visit by Kurdish Iranian group, Pay Kooban, which means Dancers, was a first for them and Fethiye. Their govend was passionate and energetic, all the more so, they explained, because in Iran this kind of dance is banned, as are men and women appearing on the stage together.

world music festival 2014 Paykooban - Iran
world music festival 2014 Paykooban – Iran

The musicians and dancers were enthusiastic about their trip, although three days and nights on a bus from Iran exhausted them. Furthermore the bad weather prevented them from using the larger, outdoor stage and the dancers found the indoor stage somewhat cramped their style. If this was the case, the audience certainly didn’t notice and gave them standing ovations.

A cultural mix of musical treasures

Meeting Iranian musicians was, for German ney and saxophone player, Maren Lueg, and her British partner Chas Whittaker, a very special experience. Appearing for the second time in Fethiye, this time accompanied by dancer, Carmen Jones, accordionist Jo Levine, and Charlie Jones on bass, their group, Souk – Bab El Louk, conclusively proved that their music is irresistible for any audience. Popular at world music festivals in the UK and Europe, they shared their love for the music of Egypt and Istanbul with an appreciative audience.

The fast hand movements of Souk - Bab El Louk
The fast hand movements of Souk – Bab El Louk

Lueg said that the rich musical traditions of Turkey and the Middle East are a constant source of inspiration for her. Like the rest of the musicians she was sad that the weather had not been kinder but this has not dimmed her dedication to Fethiye’s music festival. Furthermore, she thought that meeting so many brilliant musicians enriched their own music and provided many possibilities for extending their network and travel. “We especially enjoyed meeting the musicians from Iran. Turkey is a wonderful meeting point for artists and musicians from east and west and Serdar Oğuz did a wonderful job to bring us all together.”

Last year Lueg met the magical Iranian percussionist, Mohammed Reza Mortazavi, at a European festival and asked him to join them in Fethiye this year. Mortazavi, who already has a large following in his adopted country Germany, is a unique artist with a dedication apparent from his gentle, ethereal manner that is reflected in his intense, rhythmic, mesmerizing music. Watching and listening to him, it was as if he came from a different dimension entirely and, as one of the quotes on his website says, ‘Watching this unbelievably virtuoso soloist, one could get the impression he does not have two but at least six hands.’

Ira Ensemble, highly respected in Iran, comprised three exceptionally talented musicians, who, with their timeless Persian instruments produced subtle, cadenced music that, that totally spellbound their audience. The trio live in Tehran, but by taking their music all over the world, they have constant and fresh sources of inspiration and this, their first visit to Fethiye, has, they say, been just that.

Ira Emsemble at the Fethiye World Music Festival 2014
Ira Emsemble at the Fethiye World Music Festival 2014

The guitar duo, Vagabundos De Lujo from Ibiza (an island in the Spanish Balearics), also returned for a second year to play several sets. Their music, which is an acoustic guitar fusion of Spanish and Russian gypsy music with some flamenco and Rolling Stones added for good measure, soon had everyone’s feet tapping and bodies swaying to the beat.

Vagabundos de Lujo - Ibiza, Spain
Vagabundos de Lujo – Ibiza, Spain

Oganj from Vranje, Serbia brought an altogether different vibe to the festival with their cool, ethno, lounge/jazz mix.

Oganj Band played at the Fethiye World Music Festival 2014
Oganj Band played at the Fethiye World Music Festival 2014

Each of the five members of the ensemble had their own performance style which combined well with their music. The bass player strummed whilst seated in his cool laid-back way. The flautist extended, stretched and almost spoke with his instrument like a snake charmer would. The drummer held it all together with his tight beats and the guitarist, using a box of tricks, was able to make those oh so classic jazz / lounge / groovy sounds with a grimace to match at the right times. To top it off were the sweet tones from the lead singer that brought an eastern European style that we think defined their brand.

Cultural ambassadors

Some of the countries of the groups participating in the festival see their musicians and performers as cultural and artistic envoys. As a result governments, local authorities, tourism and culture ministries, even national airlines, sponsored the expenses for their trip to Fethiye. Likewise, Fethiye’s municipality, local business and tourism enterprises supported the festival with accommodation, meals and transport although a team of volunteers were responsible for most of the organisation. Even so, the necessary infrastructure for such an event is considerable and expensive but the benefits resulting for the musicians, their countries and the host town, Fethiye, have very positive, long-term advantages for all concerned.

Balans at the Fethiye World Music Festival 2014
Turkish dance group Balans at the Fethiye World Music Festival 2014

Positive feedback

Overall, there was genuine appreciation by both the musicians and the audiences for Fethiye’s second foray into world music. However, if the festival is to be marketed as an ‘International Music Festival’, the use of English as a common language, as well as Turkish is as inevitable as it is essential. For the non-Turkish speakers in the audience and, of course, the musicians themselves, who spoke no Turkish, it was therefore a pleasure to have the bi-lingual skills of Nursel Ardiç, who, on two of the four nights, made sure that everyone who had made the effort to be there, felt included. Her hospitality and inclusive approach was much appreciated.

From a quick and totally unscientific poll, the general opinion seems to be that subject to the problem with the sound system being resolved, and the technical organisational glitches and inescapable teething problems being ironed out, Serdar Oğuz and the other organisers can confidently expect Fethiye’s International World Music Festival to mature into a popular annual feature for the town’s cultural calendar, becoming a globally recognised success, something that Fethiye’s lovers of world music and the performers them selves, will look forward to enthusiastically in the coming years.,

Click here to see a film about the 2014 Culture and Arts festival. Click here to see a film about the 2014 International World Music Festival

List of performers at Fethiye’s 2nd World Music Festival

Antalya – Elmalı Yayla Yöresel Müzik Topluluğu

Morocco – Imdiazen

Iran – Iran Ensemble

Malaysia – Akasha

Iran/Germany – Mohammed Reza Mortazavi

U.K. – Souk, Bab El Louk

Kazakhstan – Jaukazin Turkic nations

Spain – Vagabundos de Lujo

Iran – Paykooban Ensemble

Serbia – OGANJ

U.S. – Traveller

Mongolia – Acrobatics group

Kenya – Acrobatics and dance group

Turkey – Balans (Dance)

Fethiye World Music Festival 2014 Gallery