Were you to see Turkish musical virtuoso Burhan Öçal
tooling around Istanbul in his restored '48 Dodge or '52
Plymouth, you might not suspect he is one of the world's
foremost preservationists of 18th- and 19th-century
Gypsy music from Thrace. When you think about it,
however, it makes perfect sense. Both are just different
facets of cultural conservation; ways of keeping the
past alive for the future.
Öçal -- who, himself, plays the darbuka,
kös, divan-saz, tanbur, and
oud -- has brought together some of Turkey's
finest Roma musicians in the Istanbul Oriental Ensemble.
Their upcoming tour and newly released album,
Caravansarai, revives the authentic Gypsy music
from a region at the crossroads of the Balkans and
Turkey. The great Gypsy migration passed through here
over a millennium ago, as it moved from India and the
Middle East to Europe.
Gypsies have held a powerful influence over the music
of Turkey and the surrounding region since the 10th
century. Because of Islamic disapproval of music, it was
mainly the domain of Greeks, Jews, and Gypsies. These
subcultures became important bearers of musical
tradition over the centuries, providing and preserving
everything from folk to classical to popular music.
Being constant travelers, Turkish Gypsies acquired a
huge repertoire, adopting elements of classical Turkish
music that allowed their temperament and vitality to
shine in their playing. Most specifically, it was the
solo improvisations, called taksim, which formed
the foundation of their musical style. One musician
would develop a theme by introducing a makam
(mode), which was then picked up and embellished by
another musician. These improvisations often went long
into the night.
Much of this is captured on this new album (on the
Network label), as well as their previous recordings,
Gypsy Rum and Sultan's Secret Door, both
of which won German Record Critics' Awards.
Adrienne E. Gusoff
CDNOW Contributing Writer