Sunday, November 8, 2015

Act of Contrition: Share '70s Turkish Psychedelic Funk with everyone

Raised Catholic, I know a thing or two about guilt. It's our spiritual specialty. So you can imagine my guilt, shame and embarrassment when I visited Barcelona and Salvador Rey of The Pinker Tones, very casually, over lunch, said, "You know, Turkey has some pretty great '70s funk. There's a guy named Mustafa Ozkent or Okzent. Have you heard of him?"

"Um, no," I mumbled back nearly inaudibly, hoping he didn't hear me.

With my Turkish American wife Deniz sitting next to me and my passport containing about a half-dozen Turkish stamps, I recoiled. Not only had I not heard of Mustafa Özkent (I had to look him up), somehow the entire movement - this exquisite and inexhaustible musical thread, in a country that's become a second home - had slithered between my fingers for 15 years. And I never bothered to pull. Flabby, puckish bass lines, kaleidoscopic moog synthesizers, and metal-on-metal electric guitar scratch combined with traditional squeaky zurna clarinets and plump, davul bass drums, swirl together through hypnotic Middle Eastern makam scales - an auditory hallucinogen.

Unknowingly, I must have experienced a second-hand high at some point, as it turns out aspects of this music have intersected my life at various turns. My kids, for example, love to sing along to one of the movement's linchpins Barış Manço, but I was mostly aware of his children's songs. I knew of Cem Karaca, another important figure, but only through Deniz's disdain for his '70s caricature look: big shades, butterfly collar shirt, bell bottoms. In hindsight, this should have been reason enough to pique my interest. And then my brother-in-law Yavuz has passed on a healthy dosage of songs from this era, but they were lost in the thousands of MP3s he's given me over the years.

For years, Deniz half-jokingly ribbed me for never craving Turkish music despite my insatiable, omnivorous appetite for music. We don't have that problem anymore. Not only is this music rich in artistic merit, there's enough out there to keep me nourished for years. But I deserve to take my medicine. As an act of contrition, I've made it a point to share this instantly gratifying music with everyone. Hopefully, my penance is your gain.

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