A Joyful Noise In Istanbul

by Rik Palieri

Rik Palieri and Yair Dalal at the IPRA peace conference in Istanbul Turkey Rik Palieri and Yair Dalal at the IPRA peace conference in Istanbul Turkey

Like many people, I was first attracted to the banjo from the playing of Pete Seeger. Witnessing Pete strum his long neck banjo in concert and getting a group of strangers to sing-along was mesmerizing. Pete used his banjo almost like a magic wand to cast a spell over us all. There was something about his banjo that was almost like an extension of himself, long and lean, sending out a joyful noise.

Last year after working on a special project with Pete, I thought it was finally time to get the banjo that I always wanted and asked The Deering Banjo Company to help create it. I soon found out that Greg Deering was also a fan of Pete Seeger and had made up a few custom banjo heads with Pete's legendary inscription, ”This Machine Surrounds Hate & Forces it To Surrender”, to honor his hero. I knew it would add the prefect touch to my new instrument. Deering Banjos were kind enough to add this custom head as a gift. When I got my banjo it was perfect; it sounded great and reminded me of Pete’s old Vega. Sadly a week after my banjo arrived, my dear friend and mentor passed away. Having this special banjo out in the world is a good way to not only remember his work but to plant new seeds for future generations.

Rik Palieri & Pete Seeger  photo from Riks archives Rik Palieri & Pete Seeger photo from Riks archives

After Pete’s passing, it seemed like his music and spirit were everywhere, with Pete Seeger memorials around the world. Just recently I was invited to come to the IPRA (International Peace Research Association) in Istanbul Turkey to present a program honoring Pete and his wife Toshi.

A few years ago I was asked to contribute a chapter to a book for peace studies called Music and Conflict Transformation: Harmonies and Dissonances in Geopolitics edited by Olivier Urbain. In my chapter I interviewed Pete Seeger about his thoughts on using music as a tool for peace. It turns out that this book was one of the first of its kind and is now used as a primary source in peace studies in universities all over the globe.

Many people at this conference had never seen or heard the sound of a five-string banjo. The sparkling sound of my banjo delighted them and I was asked to contribute music throughout the conference.  As this was a rather scholarly affair the music added a new dimension bringing a fun atmosphere to the often-serious lectures.  As I played along with other musicians, I saw my banjo opening new doors of communications between many cultures.

The Turkish Banjo Cumbus The Turkish Banjo Cumbus

While I was preparing for this trip I also learned about a banjo-like Turkish instrument called the Cumbus. Ironically I found an interesting connection between the Cumbus and the peace conference.  It turns out that a Turkish man, Zenynel Abidin Cumbus, once built weapons in the war for Turkish Independence.  After witnessing the tragedy of war, Zenynel turned his metal working talents to making musical instruments. He called his new creation a “Cumbus” translating into “Fun” or “A Joyful Noise”! His wish was “to make peace through music” with an affordable instrument that everyone could play. As I listened to this Turkish banjo I could imagine how Pete would have loved this instrument - a banjo for peace
Just like the saying on Pete’s old banjo head tells us, we can surround the hate in this world with music and song and work together to build a better world with the joyful ring of the banjo.


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