Turkey’s Best-Kept Secret

Istanbul-based band, Baba Zula, whose songs are banned in their own country, regaled the audience in Delhi

For a band that comes from Turkey — a country that lives and breathes in imperial glories — it is somewhat unimaginable to hear songs that seem to brew a counterculture movement of their own. But then, this is also the country that sits on the crossroads of the East and the West, and is constantly in a state of flux. Baba Zula, a three-member outfit from Istanbul that performed at the Amarrass Desert Music Festival last night at Zorba, Gurgaon, gave the soundtrack of what "being at the crossroads" means. A bold blend of psychedelic music, dub, reggae and Turkish folk, the band comprises Leven Akman on the cymbals, darbuka and a host of other percussion instruments; Murat Ertel on saz and vocals; and Cosar Kamci on goblet drums. They were accompanied by a belly dancer named Bahar, who swayed to their psychedelic tunes.

"Our lyrics are censored in Turkey. Some verses are about religion while others are pornographic. That is why most of our songs are banned from being played or performed there. None of the television and radio channels play our songs," said Ertel in-between a rehearsal, adding that the band draws inspiration from everything around them. The band's popular songs include Maybe I am pregnant and Eternal World of Poet, which is the story of a poet living in the times of Ottoman Empire and Free Spirit.

Baba Zula literally means a "big secret" and Ertel said that this is what the band sounds like. "Every song is played differently each time. So one does not know what will they get," he said.

The band got noticed when a documentary titled Crossing the Bridge highlighted its varied influences and range of music, apart from tracking how Turkish musical heritage was losing itself. "The problem with Turkish music is that it is not very well-documented. So whatever we know is through oral legacy, and we try to fuse that with reggae and psychedelic music," says Ertel, adding that most band members have been exposed to a host of indigenous Turkish tunes apart from other influences such as dub and reggae. "We just merge it all to create various improvisations. It is always an impromptu session on stage," he concluded.

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