Tuesday, June 27, 2006

100 Greats in 100 Days # 008: Talip Ozkan: The Dark Fire

Music plays a fantastic, intensely-emotional, deeply-personal, and culturally very central role in Turkish culture. Because of the country’s location at the Bosphorus, literally straddling the land bridge connecting Asia and Europe, and because it has been a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural place for at least 1500 years, Turkish music has both influenced and been influenced by many other idioms. Couple that with a mystical religious tradition (Mevlevi Sufism) in which music and dance play a sacred role, and the Azeri/Central Asian/nomad reverence for the spoken word and for poetry, and you have a recipe for an incredible music culture. In Turkey, musical instruments are capable of giving religious sermons (the saz), wandering minstrels fight improvised poetic duels in coffeehouses, and the national Robin Hood character, Koroglu, not only robs from the rich and gives to the poor, but composes, sings, and accompanies his own ballads describing these exploits.

Talip Ozkan is a fine saz player and very expressive singer who has recorded for several different overseas labels, but who hadn’t really caught on in the US until he lucked into a recording contract with the American producer Bill Laswell, who released this disc on his late lamented Axiom label. On it, Ozkan plays a mixed bag of dance tunes, Sufi melodies, and songs from the asik tradition: the tradition of the wandering minstrel-poets whose badge of office was the saz, who were revered throughout Anatolian, Azeri, and Central Asian culture, and whose most famous exemplar was Koroglu, who is also the topic of the titanic opening track, an excerpt from the enormous, loose cycle of songs associated with him.

[A weeny wanna-be American ‘ud player who wanted to brag about playing with Latif Bolaf has dissed this record, but I feel reasonably confident in saying he’s full of crap. I know this music too, and the power, focus, and spiritual intensity of this record is exemplary. The legendary scholar and collector Ilhan Basgoz recommended this discs to me. And yes, I’ve done gigs with Latif also.]

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