Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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This was originally published as free content, in Robert Christgau's And It Don't Stop newsletter. You can have Christgau's posts delivered to your mailbox if you subscribe.

Many musics heal. This was designed for the job.

Finally stopped avoiding the obvious and elected to play some Oruç Güvenç healing music. I went with Rivers of One, which I hadn't heard in this century but around 7:30 a.m. on 3/17/20 sounded terrific, even better than my beloved Oceans of Remembrance, which--together with the right antibiotics, let me emphasize, and thank you Dr. Weiss for prescribing my medication over the phone to Tannersville--got me through a briefly agonizing urinary infection in my skeptical version of a mystical experience in 1995. I note that the only new version of Oceans of Remembrance I could find on Amazon was priced at $973, meaning that I may not be the only one who had this idea; there are used versions somewhat cheaper, as well as a few copies of Rivers of One starting at around 20 bucks. More important--isn't this what they told us technology was for?--both are streaming on Spotify.

Below find slightly edited concert notes from a Güvenç performance I caught 25 years ago. My notes are seldom so detailed, but I must have figured that these might have historical value, which I guess now they do:

September 15, 1995, Oruç Güvenç and Tümata at Washington Square Church. Güvenç turned out to be a traditionally garbed gray-haired man about five-foot-three who looked like a slightly disgruntled tradesman. Show started 35 minutes late because the sound guys were late; eventually, the first set was played unamplified, which proved interesting because Güvenç's music is so quiet anyway. Tümata comprised a tall, pale, hawk-nosed younger guy beating a large hand-drum (the kind that's constructed like a tambourine without bells) and a plump, surpassingly sweet-voiced soprano who accompanied him, sometimes took the lead, and occasionally demonstrated a dance. First set consisted of Asian folk songs, many lovely and most very brief. It was easy to miss the translated introductions, which were brief as well, but my impression was that many of the Asian cultures represented were also Turkish: a Gypsy-sounding song of longing from the Chinese Turks, a Ural lullaby in which the mother hopes her child becomes a scientist, an older Ural song in which the mother hopes her child stays out of the mud, three minutes of an epic poem about an emperor of a millennium ago that takes the Kurdish Turks a week 24-7 to perform, a dance tune from Uzbekistan, a "cowboy" song from I-don't-know-where that Güvenç decorated with the theme from A Few Dollars More, an Azerbajaini love song, a Kurdish song usually enjoyed while imbibing an alcoholic beverage made with horse milk, some kind of cooking song (my notes are deteriorating here), can't read the next one, then a song and dance of Sufi ecstasy that seemed pretty quiet for ecstasy but was arresting anyway, finally a plea for a more ecological world, a rose garden that inspired the clapping and singalong action Güvenç calls for--liberals feeling good about their intentions, always a fairly revolting sound. Amplified second set concentrated on Sufi healing and trance music--with lots of dancing plus the formerly impassive translator, her glasses gone, in apparent transport much of the time as she beat her drum (is that right?)--and lost me around 11, due in part due to sheer fatigue, in part to surfeit. (Was I exhausted by the effort required to hear the unamplified music in the church hall? Or did the effort the set first required help keep me sharp?) Nevertheless, the performance was very impressive as a whole. Güvenç struck me as much more a scholar/adept than a virtuoso, and I got the feeling this was as it should be--that this music was less about technique than commitment. I could have done with less talk of "inviting humanity to unite with love," but hey, he is a Sufi.

And It Don't Stop, March 17, 2020