Sunday, June 10, 2012

Regional Music: Istanbul's Dolapdere Big Gang

Dolapdere Big Gang: Another Day in Paradise
Turkey – Istanbul in particular – deserves its name as a crossroads of cultures. Half of the city is in Europe, the other half in Asia. And while it isn’t the political capital of the country, it is the cultural and economic center. Noted as one of the coolest cities in the world several years ago, it certainly has a lively music scene. (Madonna was on stage a few blocks away from me a few days ago)
Traditional Turkish music is based on a different style of music than what we listen to – nay –what we in the West can count the beats to: time signatures of 5/8, 7/8, 9/8 and so on. Believe me, if you didn't grow up with it, you can’t keep time. Turkish music also uses a different scale. Whereas western music typically uses a scale of 7 notes (ABCDEFG - well... add a few more with sharps and flats), the Turkish musical scale uses notes that are half-way between (for example half way between B and B-flat).
Combining East and West gives rise to some creative/curious mixtures and the convergence of East and West certainly colors the current Turkish music scene. About 5 years ago, I learned about a musician named Mercan Dede, who fuses East and West: a month later, I saw him perform in Seattle. Of course, two prominent Turks made their mark on music we in the west are familiar with: Arif Mardin (Atlantic records) and Ahmet Ertegun. There are several other examples (MFO, Sezen Aksu, Tarkan..)

About 4 years ago (2008) I was partially responsible for bringing to our stage a band that produced one of these East/West combinations. Their music was an Eastern interpretation of Western songs. Like most of the tracks on "Just Feel" (yes, the title is in English) in the link above, you’ll hear local instruments: among them notably the “kanun”, a version of the autoharp and the common use of the clarinet as the song resolves to a more recognizable format. Unfortunately, the band has not made the international splash I thought they might: personally I love the mélange and thought for sure that their music was destined for international recognition.

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