Thursday, February 1, 2007
One of Turkey's most inventive musicians got his hair cut recently by an improvisational barber.
Mercan Dede walked into a hair salon in Istanbul's fashionable Taksim district and invited the barber to create whatever inspired him. The result is a close-shaven design that "looks like a tattoo," the musician says, "and down the centre he created a kind of Mohawk."
The barber must have known Dede's taste.
Onstage the artist often appears with spikes in his hair and piercings in his ears and face, conjuring up a severe and intimidating presence. But over the phone from his second home in Montreal, he becomes chatty, engaging and warm.
"There are people in Turkey who like traditional music and have a hard time with mine," he says cheerfully when asked whether his mixing of electronica and Gypsy folk instruments with Turkish religious poetry created a backlash.
"But they say something I find touching," he says. "They say even though they prefer their traditional music, I have created this connection with the young generation of people. They see it as a bridge and they admire that."
Mercan Dede (pronounced MARE-john DEAD-day) is a former visual artist and DJ who crossed over to become a celebrated world music figure. All the top world music magazines have profiled him. His 2004 album Su (Water) hit No. 1 on European charts. BBC Radio 3 named his last album Nefes (Breath) the No. 2 world album of 2006 on a chart of 150.
Dede's journey has been a strange one, with a Canadian twist.
He was born 41 years ago as Arkin Ilicali in Bursa, the first capital of the Ottoman Empire.
His parents were working-class and secular, he says. But one of his earliest memories was the inner stirring he felt on hearing the sound of the ney, the flute central to Islamic Sufism, which promotes union with the divine through music and dance.
Dede left Bursa to study journalism and photography in Istanbul. Bizarrely, somebody at the Saskatoon Public Library noticed his work and invited him to exhibit his photographs there.
The University of Saskatchewan offered him a scholarship toward a visual arts degree. On graduation, Dede moved to Montreal to take an MA at Concordia.
All the while, he drifted deeper and deeper into music, especially techno. He began performing widely as DJ Arkin Allen, playing the ney to recorded electronic tracks and techno beats.
Since then, his show has evolved considerably.
At Trinity-St. Paul's on Saturday [February the 3rd], his first Toronto appearance as Mercan Dede, he expects to be standing at his electronic sampler and laptop table, ney at the ready, backed by the three young Turkish Gypsy instrumentalists with whom he has been touring widely for the past two years.
"Hopefully, they will get their visas," he says.
They include a clarinet player, percussionist and kanun (zither) player, ages 16, 20 and 23 respectively. Completing the lineup is Vancouver "whirling dancer" Mira Burke, who also tours with the troupe.
"We never rehearse," Dede says. "We never make a pre-program of the concert. We just go onstage, see who is there and we just build up everything. It will be very exciting."
The show Breath is suited for ages 10 and up. It's to be filmed for a U.S. documentary on Sufism. Opening will be soprano Janis Orenstein with a group including husband Aydin Sencan, a '70s-era Turkish rocker.