Our tour of Turkey would not have been complete without my diving in and out of music stores with a few CDs in a triumphant clutch. But our days in that country were so packed that I was a little worried that I might have little of note to show for it. While our decision to skip Ankara on the penultimate day of our stay was not influenced by that anxiety (that decision was taken much before we reached Turkey because we wanted a little more time in Istanbul), it did help extinguish it. On the Sunday before we were to leave for home, we walked around in the new part of Istanbul. That was brilliant. I had little clue of Turkish musicians (other than Erkan Oğur) although I had heard influences in the music of others. So I placed my trust in the judgement of the store assistants at the three stores that we dropped in at, the most delightful of which was Opus3a on Cihangir Cadesi in the Beyoğlu area (I highly recommend a visit if you’re in Istanbul). Later I found that trust to be well placed.
One of the most influential acts in Turkish rock is Bulutsuzluk Özlemi which is also one of the longest surviving bands in Turkey, formed as it was in the ‘80s. The band is known for structuring its music on strong social and political themes. There’s a brooding menace to founder guitarist/vocalist Nejat Yavaşoğulları’s voice, as on ‘Felluce’, that I find very interesting and exciting.
Erkan Oğur is a master of the lute – oud, komuz, Turkish bağlama – as well as the guitar. He trained to be a scientist but chose to be a musician. Perhaps that scientific bent of mind helped him create the fretless classical guitar to accommodate specific sounds needed for the Turkish style of music. He teaches and continues to work on developing the lute. A much travelled man, Oğur introduced his variation of the fretless guitar to blues while working with many blues musicians in the US. The most striking aspect of his latest album ‘Dönmez Yol’ is the soothing calmness of his voice and playing. ‘Balık Ağı’ and ‘Nevruziye’ are good good examples of that.
Hüsnü Şenlendirici is another Turkish musician who adapted a Western musical instrument to suit the moods and nature of the music of his homeland. Given his rich musical heritage – his father played the clarinet and his grandfather the trumpet and the clarinet – it was no surprise that Şenlendirici took up the clarinet at an early age. Sampled here is the beautiful ‘Geri Dön’.
Can Bonomo seems to be quite the rage in Turkey right now. He has a distinct voice and a rather dramatic style of delivery which I’m fine with but I’m not sure if it will not start to grate as time goes by. But he’s very young and seems to have much promise. Perhaps he will hone his skills over the years. But for now, I’m quite enjoying his debut ‘Meczup’. The title song from it has the feel of a musical theater piece. Every time I hear it (it does mean ‘deranged’), I have visions of an off-the-rails Helena Bonham Carter up to no good.
Much of what I’ve heard is marked by a mood of sombreness but I’m sure there’s music more sprightly that the Turks play because that nation knows to party – oh, yes. I only wish I had done more research before going to Turkey so I could’ve brought back more of its music. But for now, I’m quite happy with the best pickings (at least for me) of the tour.