Latif Bolat is one of the most distinguished Turkish musicians in the US. With a vast repertory that includes songs in classical folk and Sufi music styles he accompanies himself on the baglama (long-necked lute) and various other traditional instruments from the Turkish folk music tradition.
Bolat is a native of the Turkish Mediterranean town of Mersin. After receiving his degree in folklore and music at Gazi University in Ankara Turkey he taught traditional music throughout Eastern Anatolia. He then went on to manage a musical theater company Ankara Halk Tiyatrosu which performed traditional musical plays. Latif Bolat now resides in the United States where he teaches music plays concerts gives lectures and composes soundtracks for television such as the music used in George Lucas’ series Young Indiana Jones.
During his visits to his homeland Turkey Latif Bolat has performed and lectured at various radio stations and cultural institutions and conservatories in Istanbul and Ankara.
The California Art Council rewarded Mr. Bolat with a grant in 1991 for his contributions to the preservation of Turkish folk music. Latif Bolat directed the San Francisco based Latif Bolat Turkish Music Ensemble. He also serves as musical director for the Mevlevi Association of America “Whirling Dervishes” a Sufi organization which stages public performances of movement with live Turkish classical music.
Latif Bolat has also composed music for TV including soundtrack music for George Lucas Studios’ TV series “Young Indiana Jones” and PBS documentary: Mohammed: Legacy of a Prophet.
Infinite Beginning: Devotional Songs of Turkey (1997)
Kardeş Turkuler (Songs of Fraternity) came into being in 1993 as a concert project by the Boğazici University Folklore Club. The concert which aimed to interpret Anatolian folk songs based on their own cultural structure and in their original languages was comprised of four sections: Turkish, Kurdish, Azerbaijani and Armenian.
The project based on the ideal of living together in fraternity also took a stand against the polarization and tensions which had been created among different peoples in a multicultural land. Later on the Kardeş Turkuler project began broadening its repertoire performing songs from such cultures as Laz, Georgian, Circassian, Roma, Macedonian and Alevi among others. These were arranged in accordance with the philosophy of the ensemble.
The project took its place within the musical division of Boğazici Performing Arts Ensemble (BGST) formed in 1995 and went on to be performed at a variety of arts events cultural evenings festivals and celebrations. In June of 1997 ‘Kardeş Turkuler’-an album with various examples from the musical traditions of the Anatolian/Mesopotamian landscape- was released by Kalan Music. In 1998 Kardeş Turkuler was voted ‘Group of the Year’ in a survey by a private radio station broadcasting in Turkey.
The second album was based on a project with a more local and specific focus: ‘Doğu’ (East) (Kalan 1999). In February 2 two of the songs interpreted by the ensemble were included in the CD accompanying Jerome Cler’s book ‘Musiques de Turquie’ (Cite de la Musiques Actes Sud France).
One piece from ‘Doğu’ was also included in a miscellaneous album accompanying the October issue of Songlines which was devoted to Anatolian music. Folk Roots in its January-February 21 issue included another of the ensemble’s songs.
The ensemble also undertook to bring the multiculturalism and multi-ethnic makeup of its own land in a music video in Turkish and Kurdish as an example of cultural give-and-take in the musical realm. Though the video as a ‘first’ was reported in the main news programs it did not receive wide coverage by the self-censoring national channels. Still it received positive feedback from circles devoted to fraternity and peace.
Kardeş Turkuler performed the musical direction and arrangement of the famous Kurdish singer Sivan Perwer’s album ‘Roj Heyv’ (Sun and Moon) . It then prepared the music for the eastern-themed film ‘Vizontele’. This work also published as a soundtrack (Kalan) received the award for ‘Best Film Music’ at the 38th Annual Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival in October 2001. It received the same award from the Cinema Writer’s Association.
In 2002 being prepared again with the concept of multiculturalism the ‘Hemavaz’ album (Kalan) also reached the international audience with its release (Connecting Cultures) in Europe. The next album which was made up of the musics of the movie ‘Vizontele Tuuba’ released by Kalan Music in January 2004.
The album Bahar (Spring) was released by Kalan Music in May 2005. As in earlier albums this album too is comprised of songs and compositions in the many different languages of Anatolia and expressing the variety of religious beliefs there.
The Istanbul Oriental Ensemble led by percussionist, vocalist and string player Burhan Ocal includes a number of Turkey’s leading Gypsy musicians who are dedicated to preserving the all-but-forgotten heritage of 18th- and 19th-century Gypsy music from Istanbul and Thrace (the area where Europe and Asia meet that today includes parts of Bulgaria Greece and Turkey between the Aegean and the Black seas). The diverse character of this music which celebrates a full range of life experience is influenced both by the Gypsies’ love of nature and by their great migrations.
Gypsies have played an important role in shaping the music of the region around Istanbul Edirne and Izmir (Smyrna) since the 1th century. Their talent love of music and undisputed technical virtuosity have allowed them to assimilate a highly divergent range of folk and classical forms. They have long been bearers of an important musical tradition especially in Turkey where Islamic disapproval of music made it the preserve of the Greek Jewish and Gypsy peoples.
In the course of their constant travels the Turkish Gypsies acquired a wide repertoire adopting those elements of Turkish classical music that provided the best vehicle for their vitality and temperament such as the solo improvisations known as taksim. The daily life of these musicians in fact centered on musical improvisation. When they were not performing at a concert wedding or some other gathering they would get together to improvise late into the night. One musician would begin to develop a theme to introduce the makam (one of the modes or scales that are the basis for Turkish classical music) which would then be picked up and lavishly ornamented by the next musician.
The main instruments of the Istanbul Oriental Ensemble are the darbuka (drums), the kanun (zither), the ud (lute), clarinet (successor to the zurna), and the keman (violin or fiddle). The ensemble’s recordings Gypsy Rum and Sultan’s Secret Door have both won the Deutsche Schallpattenpreis (a rare honor for consecutive albums) while Gypsy Rum also received the Musique de la Monde prize as the best world music album of 1998. In 2000, the group released its third recording Caravanserai which was dedicated to its original clarinetist Ferdi Nadaz who died shortly after the recording was made. The recording tells the tale of a band that arrives at an oasis and play at the wedding of a wealthy camel dealer. It includes Ya Kerim! which features Nadaz’s muezzin-style vocals the only known recording of his voice. Members of the Istanbul Oriental Ensemble were featured in the 1993 film Latcho Drom (Safe Journey) which tells of the Gypsies’ migration across Europe and Asia through song and dance.
The Istanbul Music and Sema (Whirling Ceremony) Group was founded by R. Hakan Talu Serhat Sarpel and Nadir Karnibuyukler in order to share two of the most important elements of Turkish Culture – its traditional music and spiritual ceremonies – with a wider audience. The concerts feature Turkish classical music Tasavvuf (mystical) music and Sema ceremonies (Whirling Dervish rituals) in engaging performances that closely adhere to historical tradition.
These rituals evoke the call for “human love” “brotherhood” and “tolerance” associated with the great mystic Mevlana Celalleddin-i Rumi who spoke to humanity 727 years ago with the invitation “Come! Whoever you are come!”
The musicians and semazens (whirling dervishes) who make up the group have combined these traditional forms of music and ceremony for many years in concerts in Turkey and many cities of the world.
Incesaz’s music has the full taste of the classical. The “makam” (the melodic texture) and “usül” (traditional rhythmic patterns) the instruments style and the way they are elaborated — this music stands on solid historical ground. All these aspects show that Incesaz’s music sounds very modern compared to the classical. The music is polyphonic (classical Turkish music is monodic) and arranged (the classical is not). Instruments from outside the Turkish classical tradition are used such as guitar bass violoncello and piano. Overall this music has a contemporary sound. This new approach earned unprecedented praise from the industry and the critics. It has even been suggested that Incesaz should be regarded as the creator of a new Turkish musical genre.
Incesaz traces its roots to their time at the Istanbul State Conservatory. The group’s founders Murat Aydemir and Derya Türkan have been playing together ever since as a duo or within many other ensembles they gave countless concerts and released an album “Ahenk” (Harmony) in 1996. The same year they met Cengiz Onural from the group Yeni Türkü soon thereafter he left that group and Incesaz started. This trio has been the kernel of the group.
In 1997 the percussion player Mahinur Özüstün and the kanun player Taner Sayacýoðlu joined and Incesaz started recording its first album “Eski Nisan” (Aged April) which was released in 1999. All the while they have been writing and performing music for films and television including the celebrated series: “Ikinci Bahar / Second Spring”. Incesaz released its third album in January 22 which contains eight songs plus various instrumental pieces. The songs are sung by one of Turkey’s most beautiful female voices Melihat Gülses.
Ihsan Ozgen (kamenche, tanbur, co-director of Lux Musica) is a self-taught musician composer and teacher of the Classical Ottoman music of Turkey. He is sometimes regarded as the new Cemil Bey: the turn-of-the-century performer and composer noted for his brilliance on a variety of instruments.
Ozgen is a self-taught musician and performs on kamenche, lauta, violoncello and tanbur. He has studied and mastered the works of Tanburi Cemil Bey. He has studied the techniques of playing the violoncello and violin and has applied new techniques to the playing of the kamenche such as new left hand positions and bow techniques. Ozgen’s fame is usually associated with his kaemenche playing and melodic taksims (improvisations). Ozgen’s kamenche playing brings out soft full and rich sounds from this instrument.
In 1991 Ozgen was awarded the Abdi Ipeksi Peace Award in recognition of his work with the Bosphorus ensemble a group composed of Turkish and Greek musicians. He is also the leader of the well-known ensemble Anatolia.
Ozgen is an instructor at the Istanbul Turkish Music Conservatory and former guest lecturer at University California at Santa Cruz.
Turkish music specialist Burhan Öçal has made the bridging of musical cultures his central mission. A native of Kirklareli, near Istanbul, he grew up in a musical family. From his father he learned a variety of percussion instruments, while his mother introduced him to religious vocal music. At an early age he was influenced by and began performing Turkish court and folk music, as well as neo-classical Turkish music. After his first contact with Western music, he became interested in combining other genres and cultural traditions, such as jazz and Western classical music, with his own.
Burhan Öçal’s instruments are as diverse as his music. In addition to a wide variety of percussion, such as the Darbuka (a vase-shaped drum played with the fingers), Kos (kettle drum), Kudum and Bendi, he is a highly skilled player on a number of stringed instruments, including the Divan-Saz, Tanbur and Ud. His expressive voice adds to the spectrum of musical elements at his command.
Since 1977, Burhan Öçal has divided his time between Istanbul and Zurich, Switzerland. He has won worldwide recongnition for touring and recording with his own Istanbul Oriental Ensemble, which performs traditional Gypsy and Turkish folk music. Seeking out a range of world-class collaborators, he has also performed with pianist Maria Joao Pires, jazz keyboardist (and Weather Report founder) Joe Zawinul and classical guitarist Eliot Fisk. He has toured and recorded with German fusion specialists in the Burhan Öçal Group, and as a guest artist with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band from Switzerland as well as the Australian pianist Peter Waters.
Burhan Öçal made his United States debut in February 1998 with Eliot Fisk followed by a tour with the George Gruntz Band, performing at the Montreal Jazz Festival, and in Vancouver and New York City. Mr. Öçal collaborated with the young Canadian saxophone player Seamus Blake in a residency at the University of Southern California and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He then brought The Seamus Blake Ensemble to the Istanbul Jazz Festival and the Izmir Music Festival in Turkey.
Öçal also joined the Kronos Quartet to premiere a new work of his own with them in October 2001. The Orange County Philharmonic Society’s Eclectic Orange Festival commissioned Mr. Öçal al to write a piece for the Kronos Quartet as well as Öçal and the zurna player, Ahmet Elbasan. The work was repeated with Kronos in June 21 at the Turkish Music Festival in Istanbul. Mr. Öçal returned to the Montreal Jazz Festival that summer, this time with an oriental-style funk ensemble, Groove ala Turca, featuring Jamaaladeen Tacuma (of Ornette Coleman’s band) as well as the Istanbul Oriental Ensemble.
In March 2001, Öçal appeared at a benefit for the Red Cross in Los Angeles featuring Sting and Argentine actress Mia Maestro. New collaborations include a tour with Huse Sermet, the noted French/Turkish pianist, in 23 and a tour and recording of Öçal’s first orchestral compositions (for percussion/violin/voice) with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra conducted by Howard Griffith.
Burhan Öçal has an extensive discography with several award-winning recordings. His first disc with his Istanbul Oriental Ensemble, Gypsy Rum won the 1995 German Record Critic’s Award and was a best-seller on the world music charts. The follow-up to that disc, Sultan’s Secret Door received the rare honor of a second German Record Critics Award. Later came Caravanserie.
He also received the Prix Choc in 1996 for his solo disc titled Ottoman Garden, Turkish classical music of the 17th century (Harmonia Mundi).
In 1998 Öçal formed the Classical Ensemble of Istanbul and released Orient Secret, a recording of the traditional art music of Islam. He also released a trance/ambient recording, Sultan Orhan, with Peter Namlook on the Fax label, his second CD with the German techno artist. His next album New Dream was released by Doublemoon Records in June 2005.
Bora Yasar was born in 1973 in Gaziantep, Turkey. He studied Alevi music and played saz for a semah group. He studied and applied classical Turkish music maqam and sufi music on the fretless classic guitar with neyzen Sezgin Bademli (University of Gaziantep Conservatory). In addition to his musical studies, Yasar studied Agricultural Engineering at Ankara University (1992-1994), Environmental Engineering at Mayis University (1994-1997) and Mechanical Engineering at University of Gaziantep (1997-21).
He has been researching Mesopotamian and Anatolian (which contains Turkish, Kurdish, Suryani, Armenian, and Laz) music and their similarities.
He plays saz, kopuz, yayli, mizrapli, tanbur, and fretless guitar.
Currently, he lives in New York and is working with different musicians from all over the world.
“Our goal is to musically combine the traditions of the different ethnicities, societies and tribes of Asia Minor throughout history beginning from Greeks and including Romans, Ottomans, Armenians, Jews, and Kurds,” says Bora Yasar. Along with Olcay Sesen, he makes up Sounds From Anatolia, a group they founded several years ago in Gaziantep, an ancient city in the South-East part of Turkey.
Sounds From Anatolia utilizes classic scales and local instruments to create a fusion of modern day sounds that bear traditional forms of Classical Turkish,Folkloric and Sufi (Tasawwuf) music. Played in the Anatolian maqqam (mode system), these songs include a wide range of styles from songs of mystical love (ghazal), to hymns (ilahi) and music of the Ottoman court. By fusing this musicwith their own improvisational compositions, they become archivist of the traditional repertoire while molding old forms into a new form. Their music isnot East meets West, more than it is ancient meets today.
Their mission of introducing the indigenous music of their ancestors to the world brought them to the US last year. Here is a short excerpt from our conversation with Bora:
How did you start working together?
Everything started organically. We met in college, had long conversations about music and gradually started playing together. In time we realized that there were more people around us listening to our music than we had initially thought.
How would you define your sound?
We are very interested in ethnic sounds. Every major society that resided in Anatolia left a distinctive sound and style. That’s why the region is so rich today. Lift a stone from the ground and you can trace the marks of different cultures that have existed there. The music of Anatolia is a mosaic and so is our sound.
What kind of instruments are you using in your music?
I went to school in different parts of Turkey and was introduced to different sounds inherent to those regions. I played with local musicians at family fests and gatherings and was introduced to a myriad of local instruments. I play classic and fretless guitar, tanbur (a long-necked plucked lute with frets),flute, cura, and kopuz (a short-stringed lute with three strings). My partner Olcay accompanies me with the classic guitar.
Musically speaking, who influenced you?
We are influenced by a wide array of artists but most importantly I would say Erkan Ogur. He is the pioneer of the fretless guitar and an extremely experienced musician in the field. Other than that the Armenian duduk player Jivan Gasparyan, Goksel Baktagir, 13th century poets Yunus Emre and Asik Veysel. We also buy almost everything Kalan Music puts out in Turkey; all their releases are superior.
In your shows you mention the story of Mississippi and the blues. What is the real story?
I read an interview with Erkan Ogur and he was saying that in order to be able to play the blues or jazz you had to cross the Mississippi river 4-5 times.Ogur was drawing a comparison to Turkish folk music and explaining how difficult it is to master it. So, we decided to come here and see if we can cross theriver.
Are you really going to do that?
We don’t know, maybe. We’ll begin with the Hudson River, we live in New Jersey. [laughs]
Who would you like to collaborate with?
Needless to say, Erkan Ogur is our biggest influence and we would give anything to play with him. I also found out that Omar Faruk Tekbilek lives in New York and we would like to collaborate with him as well.
What is your goal for the future?
We would like to play as much as possible to introduce our sound to the American people and at the same time learn their ethnic sounds.
Birol Topaloglu is one of the foremost folk musicians in Turkey today. He was born to a Laz family, in the small village of Apso, which is on the North Eastern shore of the Black Sea coast of Turkey, near the Georgian border. He grew up speaking the Lazuri language at home.
He started to sing in both Turkish and Lazuri, as well as his experiments in instrumentation drew serious attention. After having worked as an electronic engineer, at home in Turkey and abroad, he chose music as his primary career. Birol Topaloglu started by collecting the lullabies, and the ballads sung by his mother.
In 1997 he recorded the music of the Laz highlanders in Turkey. Later he traveled to Georgia to study the music of the Laz and the Mingrelians there. He used, for the first time among the laz in Turkey, a string instrument called the ̶chonguri and a wind instrument called ̶Philili. Birol also helped to develop a percussion instrument, ̶guni, inspired by the wood used to build beehives, adding to the repertoire of Laz folk instruments. The Laz Ensemble he formed was the only traditional Laz group in the world coming directly from Laz regions of Turkey and Georgia. Birol and Selim are from Turkey, Lily, Neli and Liana from Republic of Georgia. Their language, music and culture are under threat of disappearing.
The instruments in the Topaloglu live band are the traditional kemenche (a narrow, long bowed 3 string instrument), the tulum, called guda in Lazuri (double chanter polyphonic bagpipe), various drums and piano.
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.