The Galata Mevlevi Music and Sema Ensemble, under the direction of Al Sheik Nail Kesova, brings to audiences around the world the beauty and spirituality of the Sema, the Mevlevi whirling ritual, and the tradition of Mevlevi music. The Whirling Dervishes of Turkey were proclaimed as a Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005. The "Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" Programme was launched by UNESCO in 1997 to raise public awareness about the value of the intangible elements of heritage and the need to safeguard them www.unesco.org
For more than 700 years, the Mevlevi brotherhood defined the spiritual life of the Ottoman Empire. Sufism, and especially the Mevlevis, gave birth to well known poets, musicians, theologians and politicians. Travelers to the Orient noticed the Mevlevis mainly because of their "Sema", the ritual whirling dance. The brotherhood of the Whirling Dervishes became familiar worldwide as the symbol of oriental mysticism.
The roots of this religious-philosophical school go back to one of the world's finest poets, the mystic Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi. Born in Balkh, in present day Afghanistan, he died in 1273 in Konya, Turkey, where he taught. Even today, the tomb of Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi in Konya is one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Islam.
After the death of Rumi, the Mevlevi brotherhood was formed by his son and followers. The tradition has continued through the centuries. The Sema, the whirling dance of the Mevlevis, became not just an important element in the life of all Mevlevi members, but also the world famous symbol of Ottoman / Oriental culture. Although the brotherhood was forbidden by the laizistic Atatuerk government in 1922, it survived in secret until the 1980s and continues to exist today.
The importance of the Mevlevi society for the development of the Turkish-Ottoman fine art music cannot be overestimated. The founder of the brotherhood, Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi was himself an extraordinary musician who played "rebab" (although his most loved instruments was the "ney"). Early on, the Mevlevis developed complex liturgical compositions which were performed by the followers for special occasions and for moral and spiritual pleasure. In the monasteries, or "tekkes" of the brotherhood, especially the Istanbul tekkes in the neighbourhoods of Galata and Yenikapi, the most advanced musicians were trained and educated until the 20th century.
Other schools were at the Sultan's Sarays. These schools focused mainly on theories of the written music. For this reason, the chamber and fine art music tradition in Turkey has always been associated with the Saray of the emperor. Singers and instrumentalists at the same time engaged in providing music for religious, military and entertainment use. They became very famous in the saray, and their artistic influence was felt throughout the entire Islamic world. Some of the Sultans themselves, such as Mahmud I (1730 - 1754) or Selim III (1760 - 1808), were also both mystics and outstanding musicians and composers. The classical-oriental music tradition reached its peak during their reigns.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, western styles overshadowed traditional styles in oriental fine art music. It is during this period that the once highly developed repertory and composition style languished. In the early 90s, however, young composers and musicians started again the artistic search for new, contemporary sounds of Sufi music.
The Galata Mevlevi Music and Sema Ensemble is very much part of the so called avant-garde tradition of the brotherhood. Sheik Nail Kesova has composed a number of liturgical pieces for the group. In collaboration with Asian and western musicians and orchestras, they have created new interpretations of traditional oriental and mystic compositions. Perhaps one of the most important activities of the group has been to continue the tradition of the Mevlevi Order to educate young, talented musicians in the sophisticated art of classical mystic music, in addition to bringing the haunting beauty of the whirling ritual, the Sema, to people throughout the world.