Simon Broughton speaks to the Marseillais trio celebrating Occitan and Anatolian music and poetry
Apart from their innate virtuosity, there’s an urgency and ferocity in the music of Forabandit that marks them out. The group are exploring seemingly obscure musical areas, but coming up with powerful new music. The trio consists of French troubadour singer and mandocello player Sam Karpienia and Turkish singer and saz player Ulaş Özdemir, joined by great Iranian percussion master Bijan Chemirani.
In Occitan forabandi means ‘to be put aside’ and the word ‘bandit’ fits the group’s manifesto to ‘view both poetry and music with a brigand’s attitude. ’From the beginning the concept was to bring together Occitan troubadour repertoire and similar aşik minstrel music from Turkey. As someone deeply rooted in the Alevi-Bektashi tradition in Turkey, Özdemir explains “we were interested in the mystic dimensions of the Alevi and Cathar beliefs behind these traditions. We saw they were both important movements around the same time in the Middle Ages.”
The Cathars were a ‘heretic’ group of Christians in southern Europe who opposed the Catholic Church from the 12th-14th centuries. In 1209, the Pope declared war on the Cathar territories in the Languedoc – known as the Albigensian Crusade – which lasted 20 years. In Turkey, the Alevis are a sect of Shia Islam who often suffered persecution from the majority Sunni Ottomans. Most of the Turkish aşik singers have been Alevi and also close to left-wing politics. “There are no historic links between the Cathars and Alevi,” admits Karpienia, “but the fact is that the Cathars were oppressed and killed in the Middle Ages and the Alevis are still oppressed today in Turkey.”
Forabandit – ‘Vesionari’
Forabandit’s first album mainly set the lyrics of aşik poets and Occitan troubadours on themes common to both traditions – social protest, imprisonment and love. But the new album consists of mostly original material and feels like they’ve become a real group and not just a one-off project. “After a few years working with these traditions,” says Özdemir, “we decided to create our own lyrics of the troubadours and aşiks of the modern world.”
The opening song ‘Mum Olduk’ by Özdemir is like a Sufi poem, full of references to the stars and sea. Others are much more contemporary in their references. ‘La Novia Baranê’ has lyrics in Occitan and Turkish vividly depicting a wedding amidst gunfire. Karpienia’s lyrics were inspired by the shelling of a wedding in Afghanistan and Özdemir’s by a similar event in Turkish Kurdistan. La Novia means ‘bride’ in Occitan, while baranê means ‘rain’ in Kurdish. “All these languages show our perspective about being a ‘forabandit’ in this world,” says Özdemir. “Everywhere is a ‘port’ for these forabandits who are in exile all their life.”