The fourth edition of IstanbuLive saw it moving from Central Park Summerstage, where it had drawn record crowds, to Lincoln Center's "Out of Doors" series. I found it to be such a dynamic program from start to finish, that I was hard-pressed to choose one specific performance to present. And that's why I'm giving you video performances from each of the three excellent acts that you can click on separately. So if the perfumed beauty of the Secret Trio doesn't do it for you, try the Turkish-Roma-Jazz fusion of Wonderland. And if passionate, full-throated music from a truly legendary folk diva is more your style, you can get swept away by Selda Bağcan.
The weather had been threatening all day, and heavy dark clouds were massing in the skies behind the tall buildings that ring Lincoln Center. But the enthusiastic crowd was determined to hear all the music, and came prepared with umbrellas and rain slickers. The show started early, in an effort to head off a downpour that might halt the program, and it worked! Although a light rain was falling during Wonderland's set, the real rain held off until AFTER Selda Bağcan had sung her last note.
Let me state that everyone in the Secret Trio is what I'd call a "ringer"; that virtuoso pro who gets called in to do the most demanding gigs on short notice and always nails it. I first saw oud maestro Ara Dinkjian with the Greek diva Eleftheria Arvanitaki, and he commanded the stage the same calm way then, albeit dealing with a far larger ensemble. The always impressive Tamer Pinarbasi on Kanun is a pioneer of sorts, having developed a way of playing his instrument that is pianistic and harmonic; no small feat. To find out more about this unique approach, see the interview I did with him several years back here.
Rounding out the trio is the Macedonian Ismail Lumanovski on clarinet, who has mastered the folk styles from all parts of the Balkans along with the classical embouchure he learned during his scholarship at Julliard. Although he can rip a solo with the best of them, it is the richly controlled tone of this embouchure that sets him apart, as he is able to negotiate the melismatic twists and turns of Balkan melodies with a much heavier reed.
The Trio opened the evening, and held the audience spellbound with their intricate and intimate music. The song I've selected is "Yine mi Çiçek?" (popularized by non other than Turkey's most high profile singer, Sezen Aksu) the tune for which was written by oud player Ara Dinkjian.
The second act was the jazz-Roma fusion band Wonderland, the baby of Ilhan Ersahin, featuring Husnu Senlenderici. For those you who do not know who he is, (and if you aren't Turkish you might not) Senlendirici was the lead player in the seminal band Laço Tayfa. The impact of this band cannot be overstressed- young audiences and musicians from Turkey and throughout neighboring countries responded like lightning to this updating of traditional music. Even those people who were disenchanted with their own musical heritage were brought back into the fold when they heard this sophisticated and contemporary approach to it. Holding center stage in this aggregate, was the charismatic Senlendirici, a Turkish gypsy who played the clarinet in the traditional style, yet merged it perfectly with jazz fusion. Ilhan Ersahin has his own reputation as a fine contemporary jazz musician and composer (he wrote both pieces in this video), and in the first song "Gocmenler" he provides a great atmospheric bed for Sendlendirici to stretch out in, while the second tune, "Sensiz Yasayamam" allows Ersahin to display his own saxophone chops.
The headliner for the evening was Selda, Bağcan who turned in an impressive, impassioned set. She's been compared to Edith Piaf and Joan Baez, but I think Mercedes Sosa would be more on the mark. It is hard for most of us to imagine the conditions under which Bağcan conducted her early career. A series of military coups in the early '70s took Turkey from a fairly open society in which the youth movement was musically active, to one in which repression and disappearances were rife. Bağcan was arrested and put on trial nine times and imprisoned three times, all for singing songs that sided with the poor and powerless, and for being associated with the Left. But through it all, her celebrity grew, and as Mehmet Dede, one of the organizers of the festival said to me, "She one of those artists that I listen to, that my daughter and my son will listen to, and my parents have listened to. She covers all those generations." And indeed, all those generations were represented in the audience, as well as a surprising cross section of New York ethnicities. I was very much taken with the power of her voice, although she professes to having less lung power than in her youth. And it's easy to hear why people relate to her music, as it is both melodic and emotional. The song that I've presented here is "Gömdüm Oğul Seni." It is a folk song (although Selda has penned many of her own hits) sung from the point of view of a mother who has seen her young son hanged. From the first notes, the audience roared its recognition, and throughout the concert Selda encouraged everyone to sing along with her.
Oğul (Gömdüm Oğul Seni)
My Son (I Buried You My Son)
"I buried you my son
I turned the bloody tears into a fountain
I died on your coffin
Break those hands that have hit you my son
I did not get enough of your voice and your height
They put a thick rope around your thin neck
You fell like a rose to the bosom of the ground
Break those hands that have hung you my son
Will a son lost ever be replaced?
Ah my son, my wounds went deep
Look at the works of the wrongdoers
Break those hands that have burnt you my son."
Selda's band is: Volkan Basaran -- Guitar, Kemal Esen -- Baglama, İzzet Tokay -- Drums
Serdar Donduran -- Keys, and ringers Ismail Lumenovski on clarinet and Tamer Pinarbasi on Kanun.
Istanbulive is an all-day showcase of Turkish music launched in 2009. Produced and presented by Serdar Ilhan and Mehmet Dede, the event is supported by the Turkish Ministry of Culture & Tourism. Istanbulive brings together one of the largest-ever assemblies of musicians from Turkey on an American stage and presents the most diverse live music the nation has to offer. Over 15,000 people attended its first three years at Central Park SummerStage.
My thanks to Mevlüt Akaya for supplementary footage.