Meet some of the music lovers featured in the film.
Mohammad Seifuttin Zein Al Abidin
Considered by some a polymath in the realm of traditional Islamic arts and sciences, Sheikh Seif (as he is referred to affectionally by his students) was born and raised in Aleppo following his grandfather’s immigration from the early Turkish Republic. Through his unquenchable thirst for knowledge, he has done extensive research in Ottoman-Mevlevi music and instrument-making. Now retired, he continues to teach a small handful of students, stubbornly without payment.
In order to reconnect with her Armenian roots, French-born Agnes began studying the qanoun (zither) and fell in love with Ottoman classical music. She continued her music studies in Istanbul and then moved to Athens where she taught at several conservatories. Agnes has since moved back to Istanbul where she works towards establishing a music centre to preserve, perform, and transmit the Ottoman musical tradition.
President of the Turkish Women’s Cultural Association and a renowned Sufi teacher, Cemalnur was raised within a Sufi home, but preferred to study Western philosophy in her youth. Eventually, after a long bout of depression she found her spiritual home in the Rifai Sufi lineage. She began teaching at the young age of 22 were she faced the challenges of a male-dominated society to become one of the most sought after Sufi teachers in the world.
A master of classical Ottoman-Mevlevi music, Neyzen (reed flute master), and internationally renowned recording artist, Kudsi grew up in Istanbul performing in illegal underground Sufi lodges. He comes from a long family line of Sufi musicians who have faced suppression from the previously anti-Islamic Turkish government. He was also among the first to perform abroad with the state-supported “whirling dervishes.”
A young up-and-coming visual/performing artist from Istanbul, Alper has been studying and performing the ritual Mevlevi whirling ceremony and many other forms of sacred movement since his youth. He is part of a younger generation of Turkish artists who are integrating traditional knowledge into modern society. Alper is respected throughout many different Sufi circles in Turkey and served as an invaluable resource in opening doors to private ceremonies that had previously never been recorded.
A native of Berkeley, California, Ibrahim is a Sufi teacher of the Chishti lineage from India. He is also the Provost and Professor of Cultural and Islamic Studies at the Starr King School for the Ministry. His work challenges Western stereotypes of Islam and conservative literalist interpretations of the Quran. He currently lives between Berkeley and Istanbul where he leads immersive studies in Sufism for students from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds.
Author and co-founder of the Threshold Society for Sufi learning, Kabir spent an extensive period of his life studying Sufism in Turkey and was the first Westerner to be initiated as a Mevlevi Sheikh. He has since become a well-known Sufi teacher and translator of Rumi’s poetry in North America. He currently travels and teaches worldwide and is recognized as one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.
Born in Paris and originally trained as a classical guitarist, Julien discovered Arab music in his mid-twenties. He subsequently traveled throughout West Asia rigorously studying the qanoun (zither) and is now one of the most well-known qanoun players in the world. He currently lives in Istanbul where, through his research, he seeks to retrieve a lost common ground of a sacred pan-Ottoman musical tradition.
Ali Jihad Racy
Musician, composer, ethnomusicologist, Director of UCLA Near Eastern Ensemble, and author of world-renowned book Making Music in the Arab World: The Culture and Artistry of Tarab, Ali is an international heavyweight in both the Arab and World Music scene. He is the world’s foremost authority on the emotional-ecstatic phenomenon of tarab and has a deep knowledge of the Ottoman classical music heritage and how it interfaced with the Arab musical tradition.