Caressing his darbuka like a lover, Burhan ┼˘al held the audience
spellbound╬the booming bass accented by a thousand inhumanly quick
taps of the drumâs edge, its side, even the inside of its head.
Close your eyes, and it can sound like the fragments heard from
a passing teenager's high-octane car stereo; open your eyes and
you see a single middle-aged Turkish man and a single silver drum.
"This," I thought to myself, "is the Jimi Hendrix
of the darbuka."
The troupe was having a challenging tour. They had been met
with disasters all along the way: a tornado in Atlanta, a massive
snowstorm in Boston, floods in California, and then they heard
of the 6.8-magnitude earthquake in Olympia. And upon arrival in
Olympia, oud player Muzaffer Coskuner was dehydrated and too ill
to play. The history of trouble goes much deeper than this, though╬it
was the Muslim authorities' disapproval of music that put the
keeping of musical traditions in the hands of non-Muslims: Gypsies,
Jews, and Greeks.
If the Ensemble is any indication, the Gypsies have been good
stewards of the tradition. The show included songs from their
new CD "Cavaranserai"╬a musical telling of a caravan's
stop at a serai, or temporary palace for the Sultan╬as well as
classical Turkish Gypsy songs and Ottoman songs from the 17th
and 18th centuries.
The charismatic, relaxed ┼˘al is clearly the leader, but he lets
the other musicians shine. Fethi Tekyaygil on keman (violin),
Ekrem Bagi on darbuka, Alaatin Coskuner on kanun (a plucked mandolin/harp),
and Yasar Sutoglu on klarnet (yes, that's clarinet) all played
lengthy solos that highlighted their individual skills. Sutoglu
is a relative newcomer, being with the Ensemble just three months.
He replaced Ferdi Nadaz, who died last summer just after the completion
of "Cavaranserai," which contains the only published
recording of his voice. The CD contains a touching homage to Nadaz,
and Sutoglu, while displaying a newcomerâs nervous attention to
bandleader ┼˘al, does a fine job filling his musical role in the
From the languid, sparse desert sounds of "Sarkl Sayd-Eyled"
at the beginning of the evening to the frantic steaming conclusion
of "Nihavent Longa" the Ensemble led the enthusiastic
Olympia audience to a place and time far removed from this cool
moist corner of the planet.