Özgür Baba is a Turkish folk singer and musician who plays the cura baglama and sings folk songs adapted from the verses of the great mystic poets of his land.
In January of 2018, a group of friends who were working on a Sufi folk music archive for Turkish, Persian, Kurdish and Arabic songs, happened upon a vibrant aging man named Özgür Baba somewhere in a Turkish village. They filmed Baba performing his musical rendition of Dertli Dolap, written originally by the immensely renowned Turkish poet and Sufi mystic Yunus Emre (1240 – 1320). In the YouTube video that went viral, Özgür Baba is seen singing while playing his cura, the smallest of the baglama family of string instruments classified as a variation of the lute—also one of the oldest Turkish traditional string instruments that dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Özgür Baba sits with his cura baglama, entranced by his song performed in a pastoral setting that would have resembled one of the villages that Emre himself emerged from. His song connects centuries of Sufi and mystic tradition harmonizing the spirit of the poetic verse with the bliss of the musical note. In such a musical recitation accompanied by strings, time does not connect being, being connects time, between one’s song resurfacing in the verses of an other, with one being flowing into another through shared music and verse—in a space where memory and experience cannot be easily distinguished, fusing into oneness between lyric and note.
The video produced by Elif’in Hecesi(Syllable of Elif) caught the attention of vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout, frontman of the Belgian post/doom metal band Amenra, who invited Özgür Baba to a tour. Since then Baba has gone on to perform in many other venues, among them the Grauzone festival, held at The Hague in The Netherlands. Baba’s 45-minute performance at the festival can be seen below along with his special introduction to the type of music he plays and the songs that he sings. In this lengthier performance Özgür Baba reconnects with and retrieves the verses of Imadaddin Nasimi (1369 – 1417), Ismail I (1487-1524), Niyazi Misri (1618-1694) and a few other poets connecting several centuries through his musical weaving as mystic unwinding.