In Conversation with Mehmet Polat, Part I

Mehmet Polat is a Turkish master of the oud (the Arabic lute), a musician noted for having developed new techniques in his playing and for mixing different musical traditions (Turkish, Arabic, Azerbaijan, Persian, Indian, Flamenco, and Jazz, to name a few) in his compositions. Along with the Mehmet Polat Trio (with Sinan Arat playing ney and Zoumana Diarra playing kora) he’s just released the album Next Spring (see the Voice review here). He recently took the time to answer Wanda Waterman’s questions about his early years, his musical education, and his spiritual path.

Village Playground
I’m content with my childhood; I grew up in a village with lots of space for a playground. Until I reached puberty there was no television, so we grew up with my mother’s story- telling nights and my father’s musical nights.

The Ideal Oud
Luthiers must find a fine balance between bass, mid, and high frequencies, and so an ideal oud for me is still a bit of challenge because the kind of oud I developed?with two extra bass strings?is very new. I’m content with my instrument but we’re searching for new developments to enhance the color and playfulness of it.

Where Do You Get Your Serenity?
I was born with it, according to my mother. As a baby I had two grey hairs and I barely cried for food or anything else. As a child also I was very peaceful, making my own toys and having fun by myself when there were no kids around.

Maybe that was the reason I switched to the oud when I discovered it at the age of 16. I loved the oud‘s deep and spiritual sound, and I devoted my youthful years to learning it, so my character grew under the influence of the oud‘s sound and the culture behind it.

A Spiritually Synergistic Trio
We three have a spiritual background; me and Sinan have backgrounds in Alevi Sufism, and Zoumana comes from the family of Griots: he’s also a master of reiki and natural medicines, and he makes his own koras and balafons at home here.

they’re both masters of their instruments, but also very humble people. This brings a deeper sense of internalizing the music we play and translating it via our instruments and the cultures we’re into.

But It’s not only that. I bring my compositions to my friends to develop them together, and there’s lots of space for all of us to play freely. Also they have some good challenges rhythmically and melodically, which keeps the music lively and playful.

Finding a Balance
Concerning my musical career, the trick is finding the fine balance between technical work and management and artistic work. And also living in a big city, far from my roots, brings me lots of challenges. But I’m doing my best to turn these things into advantages, especially by learning new cultures and expanding the range of the influences in my music by living in Western Europe.

Learning From the Best
The one who had the most influence on me was my music teacher Fethi Cönk from Istanbul. He was a retired music teacher with many experiences with music and life in general, so I learned many things from him.

For three or four years we ran an instrument shop together. It wasn’t busy, so I was able to practice my oud there every day from ten in the morning until midnight, catching the last bus home. These years with him were in a way my golden years? for my motivation, concentration, and artistic ambitions.

About Alevi Sufism
Alevi Sufism is a kind of spiritualism with Islamic values and influences from the previous religions and cultures from Anatolia and surrounding countries (with small differences). It has a wider concept of life and and an artistic way of remaining in it.

Alevi Sufism has survived with an oral tradition, the essences and messages of which were written in poetry. It was also sung with instruments and danced to. Of course there are hundreds of books and articles about it to read, but I was born into it; my first meeting with poetry, music, and dance was in these Alevi rituals and ceremonies.

Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.

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