I recently attended a few Turkish music events in New York, and the two shows could not have been more different: From a boisterous ex-pat sing-along to a meditative classical concert, these performances were a perfect example of how culturally diverse the country really is. Nestled between the Middle East and Eastern Europe with direct access to the Mediterranean and ancient routes to Persia and Africa, this joint of land literally connects worlds of every time and culture dating back for thousands of years. And not limited to these neighboring countries, Turkey's influences also include the nomadic tribes of ancient travelers from the Far East via the Silk Road, incorporating the world's beauties together to form a mecca of art and culture. Makam Improvisations, an evening of Turkish classical music presented by Makam New York, Inc., a non-profit organization to promote Turkish classical arts, was featured in Symphony Space's Leonard Nimoy Thalia. With Makam's founder, Ahmet Erodgdular on vocals and hand drum, his father Omer Erodgdular on ney (reed flute), and Ross Daly on Cretan lyra and tarhu rabab (a mix between a violin, lute, and sitar), these three musicians came together for an evening of improvisation built on traditional context of Turkish and Greek origin. Ahmet's singing was an over-vibrato style of slight wailing with melodies embellished with the Eastern quarter-tone scale. The slow, methodical and odd-metered tunes had the strong melodic backing from both Erodgdular's ney and Daly's tarhu rabab, however Ahmet's improvisation on top of the structured music transported the audience to an echoing sound of mediation in the caves of Cappadocia. The music was deliberate and soothing, and its trance-like qualities were ideal for Monday evening's Memorial Day decompression of the long weekend's festivities. When Daly, a native Cretan by way of Ireland, soloed on his visually stunning instrument, the metallic sounding overtones often heard on a sitar were strongly present on this bowed instrument. A short, wide neck with about 18 strings (as many as I could count from the audience) and an ornamental gourd body made this instrument the ultimate cross-breed of classical voices.
With a complete opposite take, Ege, a Turkish-gypsy/contemporary musician, graced the underground cave of DROM in the East Village. His bright and lively music that brought local Turks to their feet was a night of a common people sharing a common thread of their own culture. The entire club was singing along to every note and word that left Ege's mouth. A true performer, his captivating persona not only lead the audience on a trip down memory lane (as I'm sure Turkish sing-alongs are harder to find than most), but his raspy, jovial voice put a smile on everyone's face including my own, even though I could not understand a word! Drinking songs, freedom songs, loves songs, gypsy songs - his music was the voice of a people in a country foreign either to them or their parents. The exotic eyes and black hair shimmering in the room was hypnotizing, and as the drinks flowed, the songs never ended. I did, however, recognize the Italian socialist anthem of the WWII era, Bella Ciao, which has literally been recycled and translated over and over for other countries and their own causes. It was a powerful, cross-cultural chant echoing out of DROM, and though I could not understand the lyrics, the joy coming from Ege's singing needed no interpreter.
THE BARE FEET™ FIVE: 1. Makam Workshops: Makam kicked off its First Annual Turkish Music Institute Workshop, going on this week through Saturday, June 2, 2012. Daily workshops with Omer Erodgdular and Ross Daly on their respective instruments, a rare opportunity. Go to MakamNewYork.org for more information. 2. DROM: The East Village venue has nightly music, specializing in international acts, along with a Mediterranean menu and drinks. A special upcoming Turkish event includes Müslüm Gürses, known as the cult figure in Turkish folk music, on Sunday June 10th, 2012. For tickets, go to DromNYC.com. 85 Ave. A, New York, NY (212) 777-1157. 3. Symphony Space: The Symphony Space offers a wide variety of concerts throughout the season, and a lot of the performances are FREE! For more information on upcoming events, go to SymphonySpace.org. 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, NY, NY (212) 864-5400. 4. Belly Dance: Thursday nights at Turkuaz has Belly Dancing and live music, and it is a short walk from Symphony Space - great to grab a bite and some after-show drinks! 2637 Broadway at 100th Street, NY, NY (212) 655-9541. 5. No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn! Lokal, a Turkish/Mediterranean spot in Green Point, Brooklyn is a fantastic place to eat and enjoy a summer afternoon. Right by McCarren Park, this local joint is a must-do! 905 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn, NY (718) 384-6777.