Clarinet virtuoso Barbaros Erköse was born in 1936, in Bursa, Turkey. He leads the Barbaros Erköse Ensemble, a group that presents an array of Turkish fasil light classical and urban music in the driving and fluid improvisational style found among Roma (Gypsy) urban musicians of Turkey.
Barbaros is part of the famed Erköse musician family. He has created a unique style forged from an interpretation of Turkish traditional style with Western-influenced idioms and improvisational performance modes.
The roots for such original synthesis lie in his musical family background and life experiences. In Turkey, as in other areas of the Balkans and Middle East, Roma musicians generally come from musician families, where training is fostered as much in the home as with outside teachers, and tempered in a variety of live performance situations.
As is the case for many professional musician families in Western Turkey, the Erköse family came from the Balkans. Barbaros’ grandfather, Abdurrahman, played clarinet in a military band in the Greek town of Drama. Barbaros’ father, Saban, was born in 1895 and played oud (ud in Turkish, a short-necked, plucked lute) in Greece. He later also became a composer, and wrote “Ne güzeldir bakisin” a sarki (Turkish light classical song) in the makam (mode) of Hicaz and usul (rhythmic mode) of Çifte Sofyan that was recorded by famed singer Hafiz Burhan on the Columbia label.
Saban’s brother, Ali Demir, was an important violinist in Istanbul’s Turkish Radio. Barbaros’ mother, Ülviye Hanim, was also from a musical familyher brother was the father of violinist Aslan Hepgür, also of the Istanbul TRT. In the early 1920s, the Erköse family moved to Bursa and settled in the Setbasi neighborhood where sons Ali (b.1926, violin), Selahattin (b. 1929, ud) and Barbaros (b. 1936, clarinet) were born.
It was natural that Barbaros would follow in the footsteps of his musical forefathers. Barbaros’ early musical experience was eclectic, and he began by playing with his brothers, Ali and Selahattin. He began playing the clarinet at age 12, when the family moved to Samsun. During this period in Samsun, he also studied with Remzi Bey.
In 1951, he moved with his family to Ankara. There he took lessons with a clarinetist Osman Özkabak, of the Cumhurbaskanligi Armoni Mizikasi (The military band of the Turkish Republic’s Presidency) and learned Western clarinet technique from him. This experience has greatly affected Barbaros’ style, which has a sound closer to Western clarinet sound, and incorporates greater use of tonguing and staccato techniques.
During 1953-54 he played in the Ankara Yeni Tiyatro Türk Müzik Toplulugu (The Turkish Music Ensemble of the New Theater) and participated in a program of Ismail Dümbüllü, a famous orta oyun (folk theater) performer. Here he played in an ensemble of clarinet, trumpet and drums, performing below the stage. The ensemble provided music for acrobats, dancers, and singers. The repertoire he performed included oyun havalari or dance songs for stage, of which some examples are included on the new recording “Lingo Lingo”Çiftetellikarsilama2/4 dance melodies and popular theatrical songs called kanto. After this, he traveled to Cyprus and performed with a traveling theatrical troupe for 3 months. He attributes his wide repertoire to his training in musical theaters.
While in Ankara, he also played weddings in Ankara and neighboring villages, performing instrumental and vocal folk music from the area.
In 1961 he moved to Istanbul and passed the radio exam. Like many musicians, his family moved to Istanbul because of greater opportunities in the local nightclubs and concert halls.
At the radio, he played with artists such as Mesut Cemil Bey (son of Tanburi Cemil Bey), Yorgo Bacanos, Sadi Isilay, Necati Tokyay, Hilmi Rit, Necdet Yasar and Serif Icli. During this period, he was the first to bring clarinet into the fasil ensemble solo programs.
According to Barbaros, Mesut Cemil, then director at the Istanbul Radio, was impressed with Barbaros’ sound, and thus included it in the solo fasil programs. He also performed with his brothers as the Erköse Kardesler (The Brothers Erköse) in first class nightclubs such as Tepebasi, Kasablanka and Maksim Gazino. This led to the beginning of his recording career, in which he made recordings with his brothers Ali and Selahattin as the famous Erköse Kardesler (The Brothers Erköse). In these recordings, the ensemble presented lively fasil versions of popular folk and stage dance melodies.
While continuing to perform with the Istanbul TRT, Barbaros began to receive international recognition when he performed in France in November 1984 as the Erköse Brothers, representing Roma music of Istanbul. From there the group toured throughout France, North Africa, Finland and Holland.
Due to growing critical acclaim, Barbaros forged a solo career and creative fusion projects with musicians from other cultures. These projects include work with Peter Pannke on his Morungen project, several recordings and concerts with Tunisian udist Anouar Brahem and concerts and a recording with African-American jazz musician Craig Harris and his group, The Nation of Imagination.
In Turkey, he has retired from the TRT but continues to record and give concerts. His own family continues the professional musician tradition, with son Tuncay on cello and nephew Saban on darbuka, as featured on the new recording “Lingo Lingo”.
Written by Sonia Tamar Seeman. Provided by Golden Horn Records and posted here with permission. Additional edits by Angel Romero.
Ile Türk Müzigine Yolculuk (Yeni Dünya Müzik)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.