by John Ridpath

Four years on from the entrancing album Macar, vocalist Melike Tarhan has reunited with two of her fellow musicians to form Tri A Tolia: “Turkish voice, Iraqi qanun, Belgian cello – One language”. Their stunning debut is named after the tale of merchant’s son Ali Shar in the One Thousand And One Nights. Ali falls in love with an enchanting slave girl, Zumurrude, but she is swiftly kidnapped by a Christian, and the couple spend the rest of the story in search of each other. The ancient narrative supplies the frame for the trio’s series of sad, beautiful songs about love, loss and longing.

After growing up surrounded by the classical and folk music of her home country, then studying western and Indian singing techniques in Germany, Melike’s voice brings new depth and range to the melodies of her native tongue. Seherde Bir Baga Girdim opens the album, with the band taking a characteristically menacing approach to the Anatolian love song. Another exceptional adaptation of a traditional Turkish composition, Yemeni Baglamis Telli Basina, storms along to the staccato rhythms of Lode Vercampt’s cello and Osama Abdulrasol’s frenzied, dervish-like qanun.

From the lilting melodies of Gitme to the unexpected Sturm und Drang coda of Asik Ile, the material penned by Melike and her collaborators is no less impressive. Almost entirely bare of percussion and built upon virtuosic instrumental performances, this is an album of sparse elegance and classical dynamics. No more so, perhaps, than on the instrumental Hüzün, led by Abdulrasol’s qanun and written “for the people of Iraq”. In his memoir of Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk describes hüzün as a distinct breed of sadness: “a state of mind that is ultimately as life-affirming as it is negating”. So it is with Tri A Tolia’s beautifully melancholic take on the Zummurude narrative, in which the happy reconciliation of the original story is hinted at in the music, but never reached.

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