To get everybody warmed up for Baba Zula, playing at the Cedar Sunday, September 21, let's start with a little quiz.
1. On which side of the Bosporus is Istanbul located?
A. East side
B. West side
C. What's the Bosporus?
OK, as you can see, Istanbul is located on the west side of the the Bosporus, the strait that flows between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. There has been an major trading center there for millenia, known at various times as Constantinople and Byzantium. While currently one of the world's largest cities, it is not, as recently stated by a member of the U.S. government, the capital of Turkey. (That's Ankara.)
The west side of of the straits is a region known historically as Thrace, which borders on Greece and Bulgaria. (It also happens to be the name of my favorite Battlestar Galactica character, Capt. Kara Thrace. Frak yeah, Starbuck! ) The east side is Anatolia or Asia Minor.
So where East meets West, Asia meets Europe and, one could say, where North meets South, (Hey, the other side of the Black Sea is Ukraine and Russia and to the southwest is the Holy Land, OK?) we find Istanbul, home of Baba Zula.
Not to get too sidetracked, but I would take a moment here to recommend two books set in Istanbul, just to give you a feel for things. Istanbul:Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk really gives a sense of an Istanbul that has mostly now vanished, but was still very old world in the 1950s. Jason Goodwin's The Janissary Tree is actually a historical mystery, set in 1830's Istanbul. Lots of great characters from transvestite dancers to the gals in the harem. Goodwin's nonfiction writing on the Ottoman Empire is interesting, too.
OK, back to the Baba Zula quiz.
2. What is a saz?
A. a chordophone and member of the long necked Lute family.
B. Wow, where'd you learn to type? A large shiny reed instrument popular in jazz, marching bands and Bulgarian Wedding music.
C. When you talk back to yo mama.
Yep, the electric saz is the main melody instrument you'll here at the Baba Zula show. Its general shape is similar to the Bouzouki and Oud. Played by Murat Ertel, they look a little like this. Here's some more info about the instrument. [I learned to type at Peet Jr. High in Cedar Falls, Iowa. What about it?]
3. Who is the Mad Professor?
A. Dr. Bergin when students don't do the readings before lecture
B. Jerry Lewis in a kid's movie from the '70s (or '60s? Hmm.)
C. A London-based dub maestro and remix artist who worked with Baba Zula
Given name of Neil Fraser, The Mad Professor has been producing and remixing and making some mighty dub in London since the early '80s. Here's a link to a story on his early years. He worked on the Baba Zula releases Duble Oryantal and Psychebelly Dance Music.
The album with which I'm most familiar is Kokler ("Roots") a stripped down disc with lots of improvisation and (I think) recorded on analog. (Or at least they were going for an analog sound according to interviews.) They didn't invite their usual bunch of guests along for this one, so maybe it's more like the live sound? This disc has a few nice dub tracks produced by Japanese producer Naoyuki Uchida, who seems to have the same name as several scientists. (See where Google can lead you?) Here's a bit from an interesting interview about the album that's on their website.
We also wanted to take advantage of recording techniques from the ‘50s and ‘60s in which they recorded in smaller studios and used acoustic technology. In addition, we wanted to get even further back to the roots of Turkish music on the album by using more indigenous Turkish instrumentation. We’re unhappy with the idea of globalization in which corporations want everyone to think about the same things, eat and drink the same things, and listen to the same music worldwide. Their strategy is to cut people off from their roots. So, we went in the opposite direction and tried to connect more with our roots. The album does have a mix of styles though given that we included a few dub mixes at the end of it by a DJ friend of ours from Japan named Naoyuki Uchida. He has a different sound from Mad Professor who we used on previous albums. Naoyuki takes a more minimalist and Eastern approach.A bit more Baba Zula trivia so you can stand around and act like an old timer at the concert.
What does the name mean?
For Native Americans, it means “great big secret,” similar to “Wakan Tanka” in Dakota mythology. In Turkish, Baba refers to “father” or “big thing” and Zula is similar to “secret,” so it also loosely means the same thing.
Baba Zula was featured in 2005 Fatih Akin's film on Turkish music "Crossing the Bridge:The Sound of Istanbul". You can find several YouTube videos from this. Akin's 2007 film "The Edge of Heaven"won the Best Screeenplay at Cannes. I caught at the Mpls/St. Paul International Film Fest this past spring and would very much recommend it. It's the kind of film that you keep thinking about for months afterward.
Here's just one Baba Zula video for you, because there are a bunch on the Cedar website already. Watch what happens to the cow!
I would say that freaky colorful outfits and/ or fezes (what is the plural of fez? Does it have one?) would definitely be in order, especially since the Cedar will not be providing the big floor pillows, hip scarves or huka pipes that Baba Zula's sound might seem to require. Word on the street has it that the local belly dance community is alerted to this show and planning to turn out.
OK, just one more video because here they are playing with my man, Burhan Ocal and the Trakya All-Stars.
("Trakya" is Turkish for Thrace. See, all this knowledge is useful, eh?) And in case you missed them in my first podcast, let's just put up the link to the sweaty guys singing along with Burhan one more time!
To close it up, Baba Zula is on the very cool Instanbul-based record label DoubleMoon. They do other artist such as oud guyMercan Dedan, the aformentioned Burhan Ocal and the Trakya All-Stars, DJ Smadj, clarinet god Selim Sesler and Taksim Trio. WOMEX recently named them among the top 10 World Music labels.