S.F. Composer Revives Festival Bringing Music and Circus Arts to Displaced Children in Turkey - CircusTalk

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S.F. Composer Revives Festival Bringing Music and Circus Arts to Displaced Children in Turkey

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Even a pandemic couldn’t ground the Flying Carpet Children Festival for long.

The brainchild of San Francisco composer Sahba Aminikia, the festival brings music and circus arts to a southeastern region of Turkey crowded with families displaced by war and repression in nearby Syria, Iraq and Turkey’s decades-long campaign against its own Kurdish separatists. While COVID-19 forced Aminikia to cancel last year’s activities, Flying Carpet is set for liftoff again Friday, Oct. 1, as a slimmed-down movable production presenting workshops, classes and performances through Oct. 10, in cities and villages around the Mardin region.

“We can only meet with 100 to 150 children in each city, so we’re trying to bring a personal touch, sending physical invitations to every child,” Aminikia told The Chronicle during a recent phone call from Mardin, an ancient city that became an important cultural center as part of the Assyrian Empire in the 14th century B.C. “We’re focusing on remote villages most impacted by the pandemic. This part of the world is extremely hungry for a drop of beauty.”

An Iranian-born composer who has collaborated widely with Kronos Quartet, Aminikia launched Flying Carpet in 2018 after visiting Mardin and witnessing the exuberant joy with which children greeted circus performers from the Turkish nongovernmental organization Sirkhane, a word that means “house of circus” in both Turkish and Arabic. He eventually quit his job teaching at the Academy of Art University to partner with the NGO and recruited his Flying Carpet crew from his extensive network of friends and colleagues.

His shoestring plan won a cultural grant competition from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, so the inaugural festival got a $100,000 infusion that helped cover travel expenses for the artists. This year’s sponsors include the refugee-focused NGO ARTogether, Germany’s Welthungerhilfe and the U.S. Consulate in Adana, though a good deal of the budget comes from individual donors. (Donations are accepted throughout the festival via its website.)

It’s a daunting feat even with a cast reduced from about 35 to 14 for this year’s festival, which features an international array of artists from Iran, Turkey, France, Venezuela and Iraq.

While less reliant on Aminikia’s Bay Area connections, this year’s roster includes bassist and SFJazz Center sound engineer Lincoln Andrews; Rohnert Park musician Khatchadour Khatchadourian, the Lebanese-born Armenian vocalist and master of the woodwind duduk; and Italian composer Luciano Chessa, who was Aminikia’s professor at San Francisco Conservatory of Music…

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