Author/Artist: Kudsi Erguner
Publisher: Saqi Books
First published: 2004
Kudsi Erguner spent his childhood in the Sufi gathering places of Istanbul, mastering the reed flute of the Turkish Mevlevi tradition; and his adulthood roaming the world, performing with the likes of Peter Brook, Jean-Michel Jarre and Peter Gabriel. The collision of the vanishing Sufi traditions and the burgeoning 'world music' scene is beautifully rendered in these recollections from Kudsi's childhood interwoven with his experiences in showbiz. This work is a remarkable memoir of a musician at the crossroads of East and West.
I got the tip to read this book from a friend. I learned yesterday that another friend of mine had bought it the same day. Is this a coincidence?
The book is an autobiography over the life of Kudsi Erguner, who was born into a Sufi music family. There is a CD attached to inside the back cover of the book containing many historic performances of this music, mainly performed by the father and grandfather of the writer, but also by himself and some others.
I became quite sad (this sadness is a form of self-pity and should not be taken too seriously) when I saw that Kudsi Erguner had made his first trip to London in 1971, the year I left London back to Finland - I missed the performances he made then with his father and other Turkish musicians.
What impressed me particularly in the book were:
- the history of the Mevlevi organisation in Konya
- the contact with the Gurdjieff organisations and
- the article on the reed flute, ney, in the Mevlevi tradition
The History of the Mevlevi Organisation in Konya
Quote, as a taster: "Celaleddin Celebi, thirty-second descendant of Rumi, was called upon, as it was thought that he could save the situation: his lineage justified his holiness." and "Celebi tried to make Rumi known again not as a Sufi but, as he called himself, a humanist."
I have only once seen a Celebi family member, in a Sema in Zürich a couple of years ago - he certainly did not make an impression that he would have been a Sufi master. It starts to look like the old story: do not believe anything, you must verify it, as Mr. Gurdjieff used to say.
This brings up another subject about Sufism in particular in the Middle East (other areas are a different case). Kudsi Erguner writes about the first visits to Paris and London where the Turkish musicians came in contact with the Institut Gurdjieff in Paris and the Gurdjieff Society in London.
Quote: "We were welcomed with open arms by members of the Gurdjieff groups, as well as by another group originating with P. D. Ouspensky, which met in a large building called Colet House. Their leader was a Dr. Roles."
Colet House was were Ouspensky had many of his meetings; Dr. Roles was his secretary.
What I mean by "my excitement" about what Kudsi writes is connected with "another co-incidence": that Mr. Gurdjieff arrived in Europe and started teaching here at a time when the Sufis in Turkey were heading for the hard times. Mr. Gurdjieff brough to the West the oral teachings of the Sufis and also the tradition of the Startzi of the Orthodox Church at a time when both of these had to go underground in the countries where they were active; Turkey and Russia from the actions of their respective governments.
I can well understand Kudsi Erguner when he tells how surprised he was to see that the tradition of his own country was denied and hardly existing and he found this traditiion, or at least a very similar one, in Paris and London in the Gurdjieff groups.
This book is a must for all serious students of both Sufism and the teachings of Mr. Gurdjieff.
Reijo Oksanen, Switzerland
Extracts from other reviews:
'A story of our time, of the search for eroding values, a living tradition.' -from foreword by Peter Brook 'Superb book ...' Outside Books Best Books of 2005 'Erguner is the real thing, and this is an invaluable production.' fRoots 'I much enjoyed Kudsi Erguner's autobiography ... which gives a wonderful picture of the trials of being a Sufi devotee in the early years of the Turkish republic after the banning of the Sufi orders.' William Dalrymple, Sunday Herald 'Whatever revival [of Sufi music] there is will be largely thanks to Erguner and his colleagues. He's excellent at bridging the gap between the East and West and the ironies it throws up.' Songlines 'Offers a surprisingly complex social and political history of Istanbul, a moving account of the relationship between father and son (Erguner's late father Ulvi was considered the last great ney master), [and] a nuanced essay on religion and modernity ...' Daily Star