BT Melodians Steel Orchestra Tour of Turkey
Having met festival committee members from Turkey at the 2004 Gannat Festival in France an invitation was sent to us inviting us to join the festival for its 6th year.
The Buyukcekmece festival is a festival which celebrates dance from across the globe and although the BT Melodians are not a dance group it was felt that our participation would bring an extra element of excitement to the event. Buyukcekmece is one of the municipalities of Istanbul (like St. Ann's is to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad)
The festival takes place between the 1st and 9th of July so upon arrival it was time to join the other countries and participate in the opening ceremony which took place in central Istanbul. Representing the United Kingdom the BT Melodians joined their fellow performers from as far away as Korea; Canada; Serbia Montenegro; Greece; Slovakia; Switzerland; Poland; Hungary; Kosovo; Tatarstan; Georgia; and Ireland, to name a few. One group from Sierra Leone did not turn up due to visa problems.
The opening ceremony gave the BT Melodians the opportunity to meet with the Mayor of Buyuckekmece, Dr. Hasan Akgun and other members of the organising committee who expressed their gratitude to the group for their involvement.
The Buyuckekmece festival takes form in competition style with the different dance groups participating against each other in front of audiences of five thousand people at the Amphitheatre in Buyukcekmece. Four countries participated every evening and their shows were well received by audiences who appreciated the opportunity to experience dance from across the globe.
As the headline group at the festival we had to play on stage at the opening ceremony while all the groups entered the arena. We also started the programme most evenings performing in front of 5000 people in the Amphitheatre.
Although events took place every evening at the Amphitheatre the organisers made sure that the groups were able to meet socially to experience the Turkish way of life and the Turkish people’s hospitality. A day was spent at the Amphitheatre rehearsing for the main events of the festival and all groups were hosted by a group of volunteers who prepared and served an array of Turkish Delights at a Buffet lunch. This lunch was followed with an impromptu dance session where all the groups joined together to dance with the Mayor and festival organisers.
Visits to historical places of interest plus a cruise on the Bosphorous
was arranged by the organisers and enjoyed by all.
At our “country night” we had a blast! It was wonderful to see all the festival participants dancing to the steel band music and also joining us to company on their own drums. Our friends were fascinated when we refused amplification and even more when they looked under the instruments to see that they were just oil drums transformed into musical instruments.
A ceremony took place for all the countries where gifts were exchanged between Buyukcekmece and us. The BT Melodians presented the Mayor with a gift from Trinidad, (a small copper pan mounted on wood) plus a letter of support from Prime Minister Tony Blair wishing the festival every success and showing his support for the event and the Melodians participation. Two days later London was bombed in the terrorist attacks……
On the day of that fateful event the BT Melodians were due to perform at the British Consulate in Istanbul for a social event. With mobile communication systems between Turkey and GB down there was concern from individuals, however being a group we decided the show must go on. We met with Mrs. Barbara Hay, the British Consul General at the Consulate. The building has only just been rebuilt following a bomb attack 2 years ago. It was pleasure to be able to perform at the event and more so as we were made to feel so exceptionally welcome by Barbara who even decided more fun was being had by the band than the guests so she joined us for three songs playing the tambourine accompanying us.
The following evening we were performing on the main stage at the Amphitheatre and emotions were still raw from events the day before. As we took to the stage and were introduced to a sell out audience the festival organisers thanked us for being there and recognised that it was under difficult circumstances. The audience where then asked to take a minute to remember all those that had lost their lives in London in the bombings. It was amazing to see over 5000 people in a foreign country raise their hands to their hearts in silence, policemen on duty saluted whilst a fanfare was played by a solo horn player to respect our loss as a country. This token brought tears to our eyes and their thoughts and kindness will stay in our hearts.
It is amazing to think that such a tragedy can result in such a gesture of love between two countries. Whilst Turkey is primarily a Muslim country, being in Turkey at the time of the bombings was very moving. Turkish event managers volunteered extra security for the BT Melodians following the bombings…. Our response to their offer was to question why they felt we needed security when we were around so many friends. This was our feeling and respected by the organisers and people of Buyukcekmese.
The closing ceremony was a night to remember. All countries joined together on the main stage to celebrate a successful festival and to thank the individual groups. Although the BT Melodians were not part of the competition they were thanked, for their contribution to the festival and presented with an award which was gratefully received. The BT Melodians were asked to perform for ½ hour at the closing ceremony which was an honour for the group.
A fireworks display and dance spectacular took place after the awards were presented to the other groups and we knew that in this festival we had made friends for life.
The festivals motto is:
Love to each other, Peace to all of us, Art will meet with Love,
Cultures will meet with friendship…………………… And it did.
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