THE REAL THING: If you want a break from Western music, head to the Orient Festival to see and hear what Sufism, Odissi and other forms of expression have on offer.
TALLINN - The only festival in Northern Europe dedicated to authentic Asian music brings singers from far flung regions such as India, Tibet and Burma to (rather strangely) Tallinn Zoo for a feast of sound quite unlike anything that you may have heard before. This year the event is entitled ‘High Cultures’ which celebrates musicians who originate from some of the most inhospitable places in the world.
Sufism is the inner, mystical, esoteric, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam which has inspired poetry and traditional sufi dancing. One of the most well-known sufi orders is The Mevlevi – also known as the whirling dervishes due to their famous whirling dances – whose monastery in Istanbul allows the public to view the sacred sema ceremony. The festival will celebrate sufi music by playing host to multi-instrumentalist Fakhraddin Gafarov, who is considered one of the best in his country. He will be joined by the Azerbaijani Jafar Gafarov and the Semazen (whirling dervish) Sedar Adem Uslan who, since 1991, has been performing the ritual dance of sema as a dervish in the ancient music group of the Turkish Ministry of Culture. This brand of music and ritual is an intense and unique experience – those used to more sedate forms of performance will get something of a wonderful surprise. And there’ll even be another performance later on in the festival with sufi dancwers from Damascus.
Odissi is the traditional style of dance which originated in the temples of the state of Orissa in Eastern India and is one of the oldest surviving forms of dance, with depictions of Odissi dancing dating back as far as the 1st century BC. The themes of Odissi are almost exclusively religious in nature and most commonly revolve around Lord Krishna, and it’s famed for its unique and fluid movements. Renowned Odissi dancer Smt Bindu Juneja, whose skill in the form has taken her all over the world will perform at the festival alongside some maestro musicians from India.
Whist several Buddhist texts state that monks should renounce singing, music making, dancing and poetry, Buddhist music and dance is still an important means of striving for the higher spiritual goals. The mask dance festival is a widely celebrated event in Tibet that celebrates the birthday of Padmasambhava – the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Monks and nuns dance in masks depicting either animals or Buddhist deities, accompanied by wind instruments and drumming. It’s a glorious spectacle that celebrates both the power of religious devotion and its links to music. There’ll also be a performance by musicians who are linked to the Drukpa Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
Alongside the performances, there’ll be special workshops and exhibitions exploring many of the rich traditions and cultures that will be presented at the festival.
For those well versed in traditional Western styles of music, the Orient Festival will certainly provide something new yet strangely familiar. Estonians know only too well that music is far from a simple form of entertainment: it’s a vital form of expression that can often say so much more than words. The festival is a celebration of devotion and skill that weaves the mastery of singing with the spectacle of dancing.
For more information about the Orient Festival, which runs between May 11 - 15, please visit the site