Journeys of a Dervish
- Mercan Dede (ney – reed flute, bendir – frame drum, vocal, udu drum, ocean drum, bass drum, cymbals, water drumming, synthesizers)
- Kirkor Küçük (violin)
- Faroch Shams (vocals)
- Seyed Shamsaddin Mohammad Shams (vocals)
- LuAnne Hightower (vocals, bendir)
- Fred Stubbs (ney)
- Sharon Wiener (vocals)
- George Koller (double bass, sarod)
- Paul Hinger (didgeridoo)
Recorded, mixed & mastered at "The Planet" Studio, Montreal, 1998
Sound Engineering and Technical Supervising: Daniel Cinelli
Producer: Arkin Ilicali
Executive Producer: Ates Temeltas
A Dervish is a Sufi seeker who spins as a form of meditation, whirling himself into harmony with the revolutions of the universe. Dervish also means "threshold" and musician/producer Mercan Dede steps across many thresholds and traditions as he seeks to conjure the emotions and sacred ideals that exist within the fertile fields of our imagination and our souls. Journey of a Dervish, Mercan Dede’s second album on Golden Horn Records, was recorded in Canada and Turkey. Using the traditions of Sufi music as his base, Mercan Dede creates a world music that inhabits multiple cultures and times while reminding us that, no matter how far we travel, our most intense journeys are into our own hearts and the universal sense of the sacred.
Journey of a Dervish furthers the excursion into the spiritual music and instruments of the world that Dede set out upon with his first release Sufi Dreams. Using technology as a vehicle, Dede’s evocative music picks up influences and instruments from all corners of the globe. We travel into East India, hear an Australian digeridoo echo a Buddhist chant or get lost in the rhythms of a water drum lapping at distant shores as Mercan Dede makes a pilgrimage into the heart of sound. Dede’s Sufi music takes full advantage electronic and acoustic technologies and instruments to enter into the rhythms of nature where the human heart discovers it’s connection to the cycles of the universe.
From the powerful gradual build up of drums into ecstatic release on Fire Drums, to the gentle, meditative strains of Remember the Loveliness, Dede evokes emotions from burning passion to a gentle and serene peacefulness. Emotions ebb and flow, but the core of human experience expressed within sacred music is as timeless as the desire to be immersed in the ocean of the infinite love and compassion of the divine. Mercan Dede’s Journey Of A Dervish takes us on a musical voyage into the holy centers of our world – our hearts.
Q & A with Mercan Dede1. What is Sufi music? What is its history and where do the influences come from?
It’s really quite impossible to pinpoint the exact beginning of Sufi music other than that it originated in the East. We find the source of Sufi music in East Indian traditional music, which is at least 3000 years old. However, Sufis believe that Sufism is linked to the creation of Adam (who is also considered the first prophet), therefore the origins of Sufi music go back as far as the creation of Adam. The style of Sufi music has been influenced by different cultures over the course of time and history. It is music of spiritual ritual used to focus the self-awareness of the body and soul and through this awareness different levels of understanding appear in a person’s life. And so the cycle continues...
As described in the Holy Qur’an, at the beginning there was nothing, then God said, "BE" and everything came into existence. We Sufis believe that everything was, and is, created with and from sound. Sound is simply a vibration, as is life itself. Our body and the world are composed of vibrating atoms. When our body and our soul harmonized with the vibration of the universe, then we are truly filled with the overwhelming, positive energy, which we call "Peace". The Sufi musician works as a transformer, he harmonizes the vibrations between the inner and other space of a person.3. Is this album traditional Sufi music and how is it different from purely traditional Sufi music?
The definition of "traditional" can never be expressed objectively therefore it is very difficult to answer this question. What we consider traditional today surely was not traditional in it’s own time. Otherwise music would become static and never change or grow. Changing is the part of the progress of life both spiritually and physically. If someone’s understanding of traditional music is "the specific type of music composed and performed at a specific time in the past", then my music is not traditional music because I am making it right now, today, and although the story I am telling may be an old story, it is told using today’s language. For me, the important thing is the music itself and how it effects people.4. What is Sufism and what role does spirituality play in the music you make?
For me Sufism is a specific perspective about life. I make music that reflects ME more than anything else. I am trying to harmonize my physical and spiritual life and everything I do in my life is a reflection of that. I am not following the fashionable trends of popular culture, I am trying to shape my surroundings through my music. I am trying to bring the sounds of healing back to culture and life. I am trying to create a healthy balance between inner sounds and outer sounds (like using a heartbeat as a rhythm, a sound familiar to every human).5. What is a dervish and what is the "journey" of a dervish?
Originally dervish means threshold, the ones who help people step over the threshold and enter through the doors of love. Also, symbolically this refers to being humble and helping others in their own journey towards their own destination. A dervish is simply a monk who dedicated his life to following his heart and living his life for nothing other than the Love of the Creator. The title "Journeys Of A Dervish" refers to the different levels of awareness of the dervish and reflects both the physical and spiritual journey of the mind and body. Also, on this album I refer to my connection with different Sufi groups and dervishes, each song has references to different spiritual paths of various Sufi groups.6. What inspired you to make this album and is special about this project?
In Sufism we believe that the source of everything is one single thing. It is like this, if we have one burning match and if, with this match, we light many different types of candles we might see hundreds of flames from candles, wood, paper, and so on but ultimately they all come from a single source which is the flame of that single match. So life is similar to this, it is a human tendency to separate things, but originally they all come from a single source. So, on this album I wanted to perform very different styles of Sufi music from different traditions but ultimately what they say and the emotion they carry is the same, Love.7. What are the universal emotions and ideas behind this album that anyone – Sufi or not – can relate to?
First of all, sound itself is universal. Every single person hears, sleeps and is born with the sound of the heartbeat. Then the sound of our universe – rain, thunder, wind, birds, animals – the sounds of nature, and all of these sounds carry their harmonic tunes in them. I am trying to be "one" in my inner and outer world and I am trying to express this in my music. Human beings respond positively and produce positive emotions to the things with which they are familiar. The sounds of nature are the sounds we were familiar with but through history we have become more and more distanced from them and because of this, human beings have become more distant from themselves as well. I use these sounds in my music to recreate the connection of humans with their own source – nature. Most of the time people respond to my music by saying that they don’t know what it is exactly but that something in this music sounds really familiar and comforting to them. Sufism is about an awareness of being human, therefore regardless of whether someone considers him or herself Sufi or not, this music is somehow connected to everyone.8. You have worked with some musicians who are not Sufi musicians on this album, how did that influenced the sound and content of Journeys of a Dervish?
A real Sufi never considers him or herself "Sufi" anyway because Sufism is not about having more titles or categories. It is about ridding ourselves of all the titles and limiting categories which already exist. Working with musician from different backgrounds made the album richer and more colorful and diverse. It is like inviting very good cooks from different traditions for a potluck supper, the common thing is the desire to communicate with each other with respect and to share our love through the food. Naturally each food looks and tastes different but yet they all made with the same intent, Love.9. Who and what are your influences as a musician and composer?
My biggest influence in my both spiritual and music life is the greatest ney player of all time Neyzen Niyazi Sayin. He was not only the master of ney (reed flute) but also the most beautiful person I have ever met in my life. Listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was another shake up in my life as well.10. How does Journeys Of A Dervish relate to Sufi Dreams... are the ideas linked?
Sufi Dreams was like a tree and Journeys Of A Dervish is like it’s flowers, they are part of the same body. Also, because of the experience I gained from the first album, the second one is maturer.11. What effect do you hope this album will have on people?
If even only one single person feels personal peace and love, even for a second, through this album, that would be enough reason for me to believe it was worth all the work I put into it.12. Could you give a brief description of the instruments used on this album and explain a tiny bit about the musical structure of Sufi music?
Like the music on the album itself, the instruments are also in contrast to each other. Some are Western instruments like upright bass and some are totally Eastern like the Ud. Some of the instruments have a very natural sound and body like the Ney (reed flute) and others are very complex and technologically oriented like the synthesizers. We also multi-tracked live percussion which is very tribal and earthy which creates a personal connection between the listener and nature. Different Sufi music traditions show different characteristics, for instance Turkish-Iranian-Pakistani Sufi music has similar patterns to modern jazz. There is always a main melody and improvisational performances (both vocal and instrumental) develop around this main melody. Rhythmically, they are often more complex than Western music and the melody and rhythm have a direct connection to each other. Repetition of the same rhythm and melody create a meditational space that, when accompanied by chanting, becomes the central point of Sufi music.13. Could you give a brief history of how you came to be a Sufi musician and what that means?
One day almost 15 years ago, I heard a reed flute being played on the radio. I was mesmerized by the sound and sought out a teacher. I become part of the Sufi family from that day and, though my family is growing everyday, I am but a little baby in the school of Sufism.
1. Journeys of a Dervish
On this traditional Iranian love song arranged by Mercan Dede, chanting and singing accompanied by Turkish ney, water and other ambient sounds smoothly join beats improvised by Dede and Farrokh Shams to create a meditational, repetitive rhythm.
2. Healing Prayer
In the Sufi tradition, sound – from the human voice to the sounds of nature – has long been used as an instrument of healing. On this track which presents different healing aspects of Sufi chanting and praying, Luanne Hightower’s evocative voice is accompanied by Sufi ritual chanting. The lyrics in English and Arabic refer to 19th Century prophet Baha’u’llah’s belief in peace, love and unity for all of humanity.
3. Fire Drums
This combustible track based on the attributes of fire illuminates one of the many different moods and characters of Sufi music. From a smoldering intro, this song builds into a flickering inferno of percussion. Attributed to the great Hafiz Yusuf Bilgin who passed away last year (it is his prerecorded voice which sings a beautiful "gazel" or vocal improvisation), this piece has an ethnic-jazz feeling with live drums over dub and multiple percussion tracks.
Filled with haunting flutes, bird sounds and improvised lyrics, this Persian song slowly expands like the light from the early morning sun. Based on the book Mesnevi by Rumi, the famous poet, spiritual guide and founder of the Mevlevi Order of Sufis who lived in the 13th century.
5. Remember the Loveliness
This languid and calming experimental piece extends the dervish’s journey to India and introduces the tradition of Buddhist mantras into a Sufi context. Written and performed by Sharon Wiener, Remember The Loveliness features English lyrics and brings Eastern and Western mystical concepts of inner peace into harmony.
6. Water Ceremony
The deep, pulsing rhythm of the digeridoo gives this song a dark, urgent undercurrent. One of Mercan Dede’s signatures is using natural sounds not only in an ambient manner but also as an instrument. Playing water in different balls and containers (including a bath tub) brings natural sound into the rhythm while breakbeats and contra percussion drum solos create beat structures not often heard in Western music.
7. Sunrise Zikr
In this piece, electronic and natural, Eastern and Western sounds are blended with a well known Turkish beat while an Australian Digeridoo plays a Buddhist mantra and Moroccan frame drums give the track a fusion edge. Mantric chanting is also a crucial part of Sufi meditation called Zikr and this track uses a maqam named Saba that is traditionally performed at sunrise.
Originally made as a soundtrack for a documentary film about Sufiism which aired on German television, this track is based on a chanted meditation and prayer performed by a large group of Sufis at a Sufi Gathering. As a closing piece, it concludes the album with a prayer for inner peace, happiness and love.
Reviews & Comments
A dervish is a Sufi ecstatic who whirls in circles in order to harmonize himself with the revolutions of the universe. He may also sing and chant a good deal. Dervish is a word for "threshold," and people on this path see themselves in the gateway of spiritual union at most times. This album, Dede’s second on Golden Horn, takes us through our own inner gateways, traveling to many reaches of the world without and within: an Australian didjeridu echoes, a Buddhist chants, crickets chirp, birds sing, drums and rattles rat and tat -- even the sounds of splashing water gush through -- reinforcing the dynamic tension of a soul reaching with persistent energy for the Beloved. "Fire Drums" magnificently conveys the journey to and from trance. Dede’s ney (reed flute) is prominent on more than half the tracks. Though in an unfamiliar language, Faroukh Shams’ astonishing vocals, which are featured in the first and last selections, warble, ascend, and descend with amazing control and versatility, conveying possibilities of meaning that extend well beyond mere words. A masterpiece.
NAPRA Review, Vol 10 No 5
The success of "Sufi Dreams" was somewhat surprising in light of how unusually deceptive that music is. Hard to describe, hard to compare, it was nevertheless easy to listen to, over and over, for its spirited journey into the Sufi worlds of mysticism and movement. On the follow-up, titled "Journeys of a Dervish," it seems like a further step is taken even deeper into the Sufi worlds. Compelling, intense rhythms and drum sounds take over on a couple tracks, clearing the mind and challenging the listener. Traditional Persian songs offer evocative, sensual counterpoint, and the guest vocalists on three or four tracks really deliver, matching the power of the music with emotion and a yearning that cuts right through any cultural reference points. Mercan Dede plays ney (reed flute), bendir (frame drum), udu drum, cymbals, water drum and synthesizers, adds chanting in parts, and provides the arrangements and the majority of the music. Other key players and vocalists join in the spirit of this powerful CD, with its combination of healing prayers, fire journeys, remembrances, and ceremonial devotion.
Lloyd Barde, Backroads