On recent trips to Green Lanes, I noticed posters in shop and restaurant windows advertising the first annual London Alevi Festival. Lasting one week, various workshops and seminars were to take place for the Alevi’s of London, but joy! the festival was to host a day of live music and performance in Hackney Downs Park, with singer Mustafa Ozarslan headlining! My Alevi boyfriend was astonished when I asked him to go, even more so when I told him that I wanted to see Mustafa – live!
The Alevi people are relatively unknown over here in London’s melting pot of cultures. We tend to think of Turks and Kurds as Sunni Muslim. Yet Turkey is home to an estimated 15 million Alevi people, (a distant branch of Shia Islam and related to Bektashi Sufism) usually from the Eastern and central regions of the country. The Alevis do not attend mosque but gather to worship in a Cemevi – an assembly hall where men and women mix together in song, dance and prayer.
To accomplish such joy in the open air of a drizzly London afternoon was perhaps asking too much of the British Isles: after the last two months of arid summer weather it was ironic that the heavens decided to open on that very afternoon with the torrential rain giving no promise of ease. The downpour didn’t stop London’s Alevi people turning out in force; the davuls and zurnas could be heard from the other side of Hackney as we arrived, hiding under umbrellas and swimming in rain coats. Smoke managed to waft through the damp air from stalls offering Gozleme and Kebabs. There were stalls showcasing local services, traditional textiles and music all swamped by impossibly disorganised queues. From past experience of queueing Mediterranean style, you must simply stand your ground and ease your way to the front! Glad for a large cup of Caj (Turkish Tea) we walked around and gathered like birds flocking to the shelter of trees. Families, undeterred by the rain, sat together growing in size gradually as the afternoon went on. Youths dressed to impress with the hope of bagging a spouse, and the elderly greeted their fellow countrymen with affectionate back patting. Piles of sunflower seed shells flecked the park ground as revellers took their frustrations about the weather out. Take away the rain, and we could have been somewhere in the middle Orient. But this is England and in true style it never rains, it pours. Lucky for the Alevis, they believe rain symbolises abundance. Our souls had been lifted, even if our shoes were sodden.