Free Spiritual Centre Hosts Rafiki Jazz at The Ace Center In Nelson

We were at Nelson on the 1st of November. I hadn’t heard of Nelson, in the Borough of Pendle in Lancashire. Some interesting statistic I‘d like to share with you. Its population is 57.8 % white, 40.4% Asian, whilst 39% Christian and 37,6% Muslim. We are invited by Free Spiritual Centre & Building Bridges Pendle to perform at the ACE center. When the statistics are the way they are, it is not a surprise we had a diverse crowd.

Free Spiritual Centre is an organization based in Nelson, spreading its reach across Pendle &connecting with community organisation Building Bridges Pendle. The gig was promoted as “family-friendly” and we benefited from this approach. Having this many women and young adults in the audience was outstanding.

Although the stage was built for theatre and movies, this was our first gig without our projection but I had the chance to watch the whole performance from the movie projection balcony. That sounds as if I was flying, a flying Ayse,  in a sense I did.

We have also made some changes to the stage. John Ball (I recommend watching his body language and fingers when he plays the tabla) now faces the band diagonally, which makes the band more animated &it’s easier for the audience to follow the often hidden from sight animations


What Do I Mean by Animated Band?

There is the front line where the singers and players face directly to the audience, and then there’s the back line where there is gestural communication happening between the musicians during the songs. It is sort of like sign language that belongs to a group who knew each other for a while:

“İs everything ok on that side of the stage

I love this short improvisation of yours.

I can’t hear you from my monitor

That sounds beautiful”

Tony Koni on the Bass

And so on so on… all and more of these types of conversations must be happening behind the eyebrows, a tilting head move, a tender sweet smile, contentment of a sigh radiating from chest moves, a lean forward,  a swing to the right, twisting of the hips…closing of the eyes…

In these moments isn’t this music feeling like the most refined art form? It gives an instant gravitation, an emotional journey to the highs and the lows.

It was 80 minutes long gig with no intervals. Nelson is big on cross-cultural events, more to say cross-faith events. That’s the best way to live true to your beliefs and your culture in my opinion by having joy from others’ differences. I find it fascinating and amazing to learn new ways of living. I can also be a little bit reserved when people first open up about their future projects. I could think that I know a lot more than I do of them.. or a lot less than I do of them.. due to differences that are not defined well. I do have a default mode which is a bit defensive”.

Johnny Ball on the Tabla

It seemed to me Free Spiritual Centre found their way to  jump over this “default” in me.

Kaitlin Ross joined Rafiki Jazz from Scotland for his one. Kaitlin our guest Gaelic singer who sang a Kashmiri Lullaby in Gaelic with her angelic voice, a voice that takes you to a journey to ancient rocks, tribes, &clans and sweeps above and below spirit worlds, a voice that makes you believe in spirits of the sea and the mountains, a voice that blankets you with warmness. She carries a joy as big as Scotland within her aura. Her career has been really taking off these last couple of years. Starting singing in Gaelic as a curiosity and feeling she might be alone in this journey, she and her band since have been winning best Folk awards and I just want her to sing & sing in this language that has been spoken since 400AD. Technically I am not so sure what made Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic to go their own way but what surprised me was that Gaelic was once spoken in Canada as well.

She sings 2 songs with Rafiki Jazz. The first one is with her bare voice, no instruments accompaning her, and she asks for a D pitch with a gentle tone. The second song is a Kashmiri Lullaby.

“What is happening in Kashmir? Can people go out of their homes yet? Does Pakistan have nuclear power? Who owns Kashmir? Can a small state with a conflict claim their independence? What does it take to be independent without fighting?” We don’t shy away from being political but we also don’t ask these questions and it wasn’t intentional to add this song into the repertoire either.

A Gaelic singer sings a Kashmiri Lullaby.

Late after the gig, we were invited to the Friendship Cafe, one of the Free Spiritual Centre’s projects that offers food for whoever would like to come and enjoy. We thought we had to travel straight back to Sheffield after the gig. When we packed the gear, it was coming to 10pm and not many of us were left to travel back together as Guery came by his car and took some of the other band members back to Sheffield with him. We decided to take up our host’s offer of food. It was a first at the Friendship Cafe. They offer food, clothes, books, information and friendship for free to whom need it.

Tonight Shabaz was the cook. Maybe it is a way that men are trying to break the view on İslamic / Asian tradition.  “We only cook what we eat in our own homes, the same quality of ingredients and variety.” We had chicken curry, salmon on bagette, rice and cheesecake and mint tea after this feast. The friendship cafe is open fortnightly and hosts many homeless, vulnerable &lonely people, offering free food, warm conversations and friendship.

Mint tea is the sealer of that friendship I could have easily had every night. Around the table we spoke about Sufi traditions. I admire the books on the window sills and the corner reading chair. I imagined this space to become a culture hub, a learning center for all ages and all backgrounds, sharing their knowledge in time.

I come from an Islamic society, was  raised by a religious grandmother and atheist mother. Turkey has many faces, I have seen many faces of men and women, tradition in tradition, and I think it takes great inner force to create a balance of the ego.

Rumi wore the white dress and the brown long hat, and he and his followers whirled &danced to let go of their ego and unite with the oneness of everything. The clothing of the whirling dervishes is a symbol for this burial of the ego and separation. That is a tricky notion as Rumi’s beloved teacher who he calls the light/the lover was also asassinated by Rumi’s own disciples as an act of deep jealousy..

Life’s tragedy does not come from the words written in the books, it comes from the people who think they know the best and want to preserve their way of thinking.

A stranger is welcomed for a while until he/she becomes legit. It is with these type of events, these magnanimous approaches, that we could create progressive work and behaviours that touches all our lives.