thu 20/06/2024

BaBa ZuLa, Jazz Cafe review - much more than mere entertainment from 'Turkish Psych' specialists | reviews, news & interviews

BaBa ZuLa, Jazz Cafe review - much more than mere entertainment from 'Turkish Psych' specialists

BaBa ZuLa, Jazz Cafe review - much more than mere entertainment from 'Turkish Psych' specialists

Istanbul rebels make fusion that zings

BaBa Zula: the Eastern Mediterranean meets rock, dub and reggaeEmir Sivaci

BaBa ZuLa only fully manifest their free spirit when they play live, and in the intimate setting of a venue like the Jazz Cafe, where the entre audience is close to the stage.

The Istanbul purveyors of "Turkish Psych" began their set by infiltrating the expectant crowd, Two of the band ambled through the excited throng, summoning energy as they went, and introducing the sounds of the electric saz and the large davul, the deep-sounding drum favoured by gypsy bands throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and Balkans.

A few minutes later, having processed across the floor, as in a shamanic ritual, the band emerged in full splendour on the stage. They looked and behaved like spaced-out hippies, with bug-eyed shades and wild hair (pictured below). This was an art performance as much as just making music. They launched into one of their mesmerising riffs on traditional rhythms, slowly bringing the music and the audience to near-ecstasy. Percussionist Mehmet Levent Akman played the spoons, in the style of traditional Anatolia, creating a delicate but engaging high-pitched clatter, the perfect foil for the deep throb of the bass drum. Osman Murat Ertel on electric saz and Periklis Tsoukalas on electric oud delivered a mounting series of simple phrases, with the characteristic tonal feel of the maqam, the Middle Eastern mode’s microtones made more expressive by the use of wah-wah pedals and reverb.

The strength and originality of BaBa ZuLa comes from the organic way in which they mix the beguiling sounds and rhythms of the Eastern Mediterranean with the raw energy of rock, dub and reggae. Early in the set, with ”Haller Yollar” (“Ways and Circumstances”), the percussion and synths were strongly reminiscent of the driving rhythm of Massive Attack’s classic “Inertia Creeps” (from the 1998 album Mezzanine). It’s as if the blend of genres favoured by the band were inevitable. This is not forced fusion but the natural reflection of the musicians’ background and passions. There is at the core of the encounter the shared essence of the different genres. Rock has always been about a form of transcendence, the embrace of the Dionyisiac, in wild party or choreographed ritualistic mode. The music of Turkish weddings and other celebrations – often made, as in Greece, by members of Roma people – is also about letting go, the ego temporarily overcome by opening the heart, and forging community.

Baba Zula

As the band made another foray into the audience, the big davul pounding away, raising energies further and summoning the spirit, I was reminded of dancing, many years ago, late into the night after a wild fire-walking ritual, in the Greek province of Thrace. There had been 10 or so of us circling around a zurna player, his shrill reed piercing our ears and blasting our minds, and a daouli (the local version of the davul) pounded with something close to fury.

There was a moment in Camden Town when Periklis Tsoukalas (the only Greek member of the band), played synthesised zurna. This was one of the many occasions when the band took us on a trip, the force of repetition enabling the kind of self-forgetting that offers pure pleasure in the instant. But there were other times when the energy sagged, and the constant buzz of audience-members who couldn't help chattering away created a distance, and something close to boredom.  Much of the material is drawn from their recently released album Derin Derin, as uneven in its own way as the set at the Jazz Cafe. It has many passages of unadulterated excitement, and others that pale in comparison.

There was a frequent forest of raised smart phones (including my own at times), desperate to capture the magic of the performance, and yet instantly creating distance from the fleeting immediacy of the event. A sign of our connected yet disconnected times, and a paradox given BaBa ZuLa’s dedication to spontaneity and connection with their audience: a fierce and fun-filled commitment to much more than mere entertainment, which all the same managed at times to bring punters and performers together in vibrant celebration and joy.


This is not forced fusion but the natural reflection of the musicians’ background and passions


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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