Monday, September 3, 2012
Talip Ozkan: The Dark Fire
Here is another phenomenal album issued by Bill Laswell's Axiom label back in the early 1990s: Talip Ozkan's The Dark Fire. The Turkish saz player performs muscular and impassioned traditional songs and vocals. The saz or baglama, as commonly known in Turkey, is a lute-like instrument with a wide, deep body, but with a neck far longer than the lute, and is played either with a plectrum or in a fingerpicking style.
Ozkan (1939-2010) was from the Acipayam region of southwest Turkey and came to attention in the late 1950s and 1960s performing on radio programs in the capital Ankara and he was the Director of Folkloric music and dance programming for the national radio station system. In 1977, he moved to Paris, pursuing doctorate work in ethnomusicology and teaching at conservatories and universities there. After a career teaching at a conservatory in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Ozkan retired.
It was in Paris that The Dark Fire was made, with production handled by Laswell and his long-time musical associate Nicky Skopelitis, a very fine guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, and engineered by Oz Fritz, who work is typically clear and crystalline, making Ozkan's saz work ring and resound brilliantly, while excellently capturing his emotive baritone vocal style. He was accompanied on some tracks by saz player and percussionist Mahmut Demir, whose work gives a further richness abd breadth to the already intense sounds. Ozkan was under-recorded, so this album has preserved the little-documented work of a true master of traditional Turkish music.
The tracks reflect the long history and traditions of Turkish music. The opener deals with a famed troubadour and soldier named Koroglu, who predated Islam's arrival some 1300 years ago. The second piece, Karsilama, is a Thracian dance song with percussion providing a lively beat. A love song, Girdin Yarnin, comes from the Azeri people, whose homeland was today's republic of Azerbaidjan, adjacent to Turkey. Suda Balik Oynuyor has a melody going back nearly 900 years in the Anatolia region of the central part of the country. Another tribute to a troubadour is Komur Gozlum and this song is emblematic of the more sensual of traditional Turkish song. A nod to the tradition of the whirling dervishes, whose music was recently covered in this blog, comes with Yuce Daq Basin Da Bir Koyun Meler, but in the Alevi tradition (rather than the Mehlevis highlighted in the earlier post), women take part with men. A dance tune without a name, so it was called Sipsi after the style of dance embodied in it, comes from Ozkan's home town. One of the more interesting tunes if Gah Cikarin Gokyuzune, which herald the Alevi troubadour Kul Nesimi, who resisted denying his religious beliefs and was skinned alive some 600 years ago. Another dance piece, the Abdal, named for the Anatolian people who developed the style is the longest track at over 9 minutes and is a favorite of YHB. The closing song is Feridem, named after a woman named Farida from an ancient region of Anatolia.
As in so many other cases, Laswell deserves a great deal of credit for bringing great music from other societies around the world to a (potential) audience through a major label, Axiom being distributed for several years through Chris Blackwell's Island Records. And, the late Talip Ozkan's rendering of traditional Turkish music through his excellent saz playing and his earnest vocals are worth seeking out.