Mercan Dede – Sufi Traveler (Doublemoon/Mi5/Caroline Dist., 2004)
Burhan Ocal and the Trakya All Stars Featuring Smadj – Kirklareli Il Siniri (Doublemoon DM20, 2003)
Born Arkin Ilicali in Turkey, introduced to electronica while studying on an art scholarship in Canada and determined to infuse the traditions of his native country as well as the spiritual aesthetics of the Islamic Sufi sect into his music, Mercan Dede is something of a modern techno-mystic. He was captivated at an early age by the sound of the Middle Eastern ney flute and today incorporates his own playing of it into his mix of sampled sounds and ample acoustic instrumentation.
Sufi Traveler is a twofer comprised of his earlier releases Nar (“Fire”) and Seyahatname, the latter produced in collaboration with the Turkish National Dance Troupe. In fact, both discs have a hypnotic dance-inducing quality, radiating waves of sound in which the plugged and unplugged elements swirl ecstatically (like the dervish dancer who accompanies Dede and his band Secret Tribe in concert) in and out of pensive interludes and long blissful sections that groove with ney, violin, kanun zither, bass, darbuka drum and live as well as sampled vocals.
Seyahatname has the marginally more organic feel of the two discs, though both are deeply penetrating, sweetly mind-and-body-altering examples of ultramodern global music done right. This is the most widely available Mercan Dede music in the U.S. thus far, and taking advantage of that availability is something I’d urge strongly.
Percussionist Burhan Öçal is another adventurous Turk, one who’s been known longer internationally than Mercan Dede. He too was out to do some modernizing of Turkish music without declaring war on the roots of it. So he assembled some of the country’s finest Gypsy musicians, masters of instruments familiar (trumpet, clarinet, violin) and not so familiar (zurna, cumbush) as well as Tunisian producer/engineer/’ud player Smadj to craft the sound.
The results are mighty tasty, not as steeped in technology as Dede but dazzling on both the traditional and techno fronts. Smadj’s programming and beats mesh seamlessly with Ocal’s own percussion and the battery of drummers who cut loose with him, unleashing a rhythmic storm that the horns, strings and an
accordion make even more stirring. The mostly instrumental arrangements are intricate and flawlessly played as grooves dart among melodies that owe a lot of their spice to the northern Greek heritage of the Gypsy players involved.
Some slow, wailing passages connect the more fevered moments just as the overall feel links musical similarities between the Balkans and the gateway to the Middle East. A terrific disc.