Dervishes: in a whirl of their own

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The Independent Culture
THE DERVISHES flung off their black robes and began to revolve. In long white woollen shrouds and little red hats shaped like Islamic tombstones, heads tipped to one side, one palm up and one down, they whirled to the frenzied chainsaw chant of their leader. Sara Nuttall, our earnest guide to the Music of the Silk Road (R3), was clearly impressed. She described with fastidious care what she saw and heard on the first leg of her journey from Istanbul to China, and it sounded amazing.

She was lucky enough to witness a wedding. First, she said, women painted the bride's hands with rust-coloured dyes, presumably so that she would be caught red-handed on her henna night. Later, they too danced, to the music of the shawm and the frame-drum - erotic snake-charming with bells on. But nobody explained what any of the songs were about until we got to a remote little cafe where a minor, stationary dervish howled to the strumming of a loosely strung instrument apparently called a pzazz.

This was the strangest of all, sounding like a bad rock-music tape, played backwards on an old machine whose batteries were feeling the strain. But the words were pure Shelley. He sang of a traveller addressing ancient ruins in the desert and asking how long they had been there. Like Ozymandias, the ruins answered in windswept silence. Their implicit message was "an elegiac comment on the passing of beauty and the glories of the world". Sara jumped on a plane ready for next week while the programme ended with cowbells and a plaintive, eloquent moo. What fun it must be to make such a trip.

An elegiac comment on the passing of Bob Marley came from Kiss FM. Pausing in London on his way home from the Zimbabwe Independence party in 1980, the king of reggae bumped into David Rodigan on a staircase. The nervous young DJ sought his hero for an interview scarcely daring to hope that his wish would be granted. On Monday, 15 years later, it was broadcast on Rodigan's Reggae. Marley came across as genial, modest and relaxed: Rodigan was knowledgeable enough to win a Mastermind contest on the Marley career, and awestruck. It came alive when they spoke of the attempt on Marley's life. He was a Rasta, he said, and way above politics, in a place where "sittin' on a fence, you can get shot at". Yes, but they didn't get him. A year later, cancer did. Doubtless Marley's ghost would chuckle broadly to learn of his subsequent apotheosis.

He'd have been 50 this week, a landmark in anyone's life. Eighteen is another, celebrated in Act Your Age (R4), a fascinating series marking such milestones with a miscellany of memories. At 18, one fellow went from Rod Stewart to Van Morrison, or, as he put it, from oikdom to poetry. Another longed to rebel, in his case by wearing a - wait for it - "sports jacket with a pleated pocket" - but he didn't dare. A woman, 18 in 1939, joined the WRAF in the bloom of her girlhood, only to be taken in hand by a mother hen called Rosie who told her "you look like a blooming apple about to be plucked off an effing tree".

Innocence at 18 is a nostalgic notion now. One old lady remarked, "I don't think a lot of children know what a blush is today". But a gloomy fellow whose majority coincided with the arrival of punk put the opposing case: "There's only so much fun to be had from spitting and vomiting over people", and a girl who must be only just old enough to qualify sang the praises of drink and drugs and demanded anarchy; just to see what happens next. Poor little innocent.

The heroine of Machinal (R3) is an object-lesson in innocence betrayed. Desperately seeking escape from her rich, horrible old husband, she murders him, is convicted and executed. Fiona Shaw put such whispered tension and terror into her performance that I had to stop the car before I could unclench my hands from the steering-wheel. Magnificent, dangerous radio.

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