Constantinople Ensemble – Mixture of Cultures through the Vehicle of Music

Written by Michael Polychronis

Music has always been and remains an inexhaustible field of creativity and exploration for Kiya Tabassian, a founding member of the Constantinople ensemble. He lives through it and through his other projects, with the main goal of bringing together talented colleagues from around the world to “discuss” their musical roots, to bridge the tree that each one has watered, always with respect for the roots of the worlds that have come together to converse. No, of course, he is not being original. The culture of these mixtures is an old affair. We encounter it already in the Middle Ages, the product either of migration, of travels, or of wars.

This bridge between East and West, between yesterday and today, is at the core of the Constantinople Ensemble that Kiya started in 2001 and has since amassed dozens of albums and just as many imaginative collaborations, both in and out of the studio, from all around the globe. Let’s not forget, of course, that Istanbul remains perennially the bridge, the multicultural epicenter since its foundation. Thus, it was rightfully given to the band this name, which also followed the destiny of the City – Bridge. Since 2001, with 20 albums and more, 60 original works, and performances in over 290 cities across 57 different countries, the tireless members of the band, Kiya Tabassian (setar), Didem Basar (kanun), Patrick Graham (percussion), Tonya Laperriere (baroque violin and viola d’amore), and Hamin Honari (percussion), have an impressive track record. However, their headquarters is not Istanbul, as one might expect, but Quebec, Canada. This offers the necessary distance that many artists need to come fresher and “conquer” artistically their source of inspiration.

If one wishes to delve into the work of the ensemble, they will be impressed by the variety and breadth of its sources and references. In all their recordings, they draw from the sources of medieval music manuscripts (primarily), from the recordings of historical periods that they engage with alongside the musical traditions of the countries they “visit”. And all this with the collaboration of their distinguished guests who mold together with the members of the ensemble the artistic dough. Musicians from Africa, Japan, Italy, Greece, India, and more. Each time, a fruitful dialogue emerges between the creators, and its imprint is engraved as a classic in the discographic history. If one listens to all the albums, they will surely feel the common tone they emanate. A distillation of medieval flavor that does not develop academically. The goal is for the native language of the guests to be heard and to travel together with the listener, as much as possible, to the source, back in time, for us to get a taste of how the mixtures, the marriages, usually from anonymous sources, happened in those times. Original compositions are, of course, not absent from this creative canvas, which harmoniously ties in with the echo of the ancestors. Sephardic, Greek, and Anatolian, Spanish melodies heard by the traveler and merchant on the Silk Road, and so many more, mostly with period instruments and the absence of electricity, but with all the dynamics of those times, which often constituted the beginning of the modern musical “alphabet”! “The ground that exists for exploration is endless civilizations and memories, the lines of which we like to move so that they ultimately converge. Our ground is the migratory flows and the mixing of cultures. Perhaps our ‘exile’ {in Canada} led us to return to the source, to follow the traces of our predecessors, and to tirelessly seek creative companions. Whatever it is, this awareness that you belong to many places and times is as fundamental to us as breathing, as inspiration” is the manifesto of the band.

The artistic director and soul of the ensemble, Kiya Tabassian, at the age of 14, immigrated to Quebec, Canada, in 1990. There, he continued his studies in Persian music with Reza Ghassemi and Kagan Kalhur, while studying music composition. A multi-tasker, besides Constantinople, he participates in similar projects worldwide, composes, and teaches. A virtuoso of the setar, he established a unique relationship with his Iranian compatriot Kalhur, a famous player of the kamancheh. Constantinople and Kiya have a special relationship with Greece. The EN CHORDAIS have collaborated on several albums of the ensemble, where we also meet Maria Farantouri and Savina Yannatou. Their presence in Greece is frequent and quite successful. Their great loves are also Francois Atlan and the African Ablaye Cissoko.

In an era when genuine traditional music but also what we used to call world music seems to be receding into the background, such units are real treasures for maintaining and renewing national identities but also for the continued collaboration for the creation of new languages, new hybrids, and ultimately a new perspective.


Constantinople Ensemble discography:

Official website:

Constantinople Ensemble – Spotify Playlist:


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