Istanbul – not Constantinople

The last leg of our eurotour was Istanbul. We kept the best till last! We had the extra pleasure of sharing our last week or so with my brother Chris who lives in Vienna and was able to join us on the Istanbul trip.

Chris boarding the train to Istanbul

I’ve always wanted to come to this city lying at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. It is the most ancient city I’ve stayed in and it’s amazing how so much of it’s 2000+ year history is still clearly present and legible. There are significant buildings on the skyline of the old part of the city dating from almost every century starting from the 6thC Ayasofya. It’s great detective work teasing apart the various cultural and historic layers, trying to understand what is Byzantine, Ottoman, Christian, and Muslim – like the sticky pastry layers of an ancient baklava.

Sunset from the Golden Gate

East meets West

You can see lots of images of the city on Sandra’s weblog.

The main reason we came to Istanbul however was to experience the music here. We were fortunate in our timing to be able to join in on the first week of Dore Stein’s Tangential Turkey Tour. Dore is the mastermind of Tangents which is far and away my favourite radio program – 8pm-12am every Saturday on KALW – you can stream it live if your not in the SF Bay Area.
Tangents has been a huge influence on my musical tastes since moving to SF. I was excited to be able to spend more time with Dore and to get a chance to experience the musicians he has gotten to know in this richly musical city.

Our first tangential musical encounter was the amplified chorus of the muezzin’s calls to prayer blaring from every mosque in the city 5 times per day. To strangers it’s evocative and poetic The changing chorus as you move around the city and different mosques take the lead has a haunting Steve Reichian quality.

Looking to Allah

As part of our tour we enjoyed a series of concerts over several days at great, intimate venues all over the city.

The first night we say Turkish jazz with percussionist Engin Gürkey’s 5 piece band featuring violinist Turay Dinleyen and a great assortment of guest artists at a cool little jazz club called Nardis, just below the Galata tower.

The next afternoon we visited the studio of famed percussionist, drummer and instrument inventor Okay Temiz.

Okay Temiz

OK! Sandra!

The next night we caught a ferry to Kadakoy on the Asian side of the Bosphorus to dine with and then enjoy a performance by Sumru Ağıryürüyen accompanied by the versatile and sensitive guitarist Cenk Erdogan at a great little club called Guitar Cafe that opened just for our group. You can see a movie of a song from the performance here (make sure it loads fully before you begin the playback!)

Sumru and Cenk at the Guitar Cafe

And finally Roma clarinetist Selim Sesler (featured in Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul) with his incredibly energetic and accomplished band, in another tiny dinner club overlooking bustling Istiklal Cadessi.

Selim Sesler and band

Selim Sesler and band

We also visited Faradan, a well known traditional instrument maker, in his tiny apartment which was essentially a museum of instruments from Asia Minor, many of which he had created from research into historical miniature paintings. I was tempted by a beautiful juniper wood balağmathat he had made but decided to continue researching my options before committing. We spent some time in his tiny, hole-in-the-wall workshop. It’s amazing how such immaculate instruments can be built in such cramped and seemingly chaotic conditions.

Faradan playing the balağma

Faradan's tiny, cramped, seemingly chaotic workshop

Faradan's miniscule machine shop

A coopered Oud body under construction

No musical tour of Istanbul is complete without a visit to Galip Dede Caddessi which winds it’s way up from the monumental Galata Tower. This street is literally crammed with instrument stores.

Our first stop to load up on CD’s was Laleplak (Galip Dede Caddessi no 1, Tünel, Byöglu). Then we drooled down the hill enjoying all the little boutique music stores (stopping for Turkish coffee and baklava of course) until coming to Barok Musik 2 (no. 64) where I had an introduction to the charming and enthusiastic multi-instrumentalist and great salesman Berkant Kaya. Berkant spent ages with me explaining and demonstrating lots of different instruments while fielding constant interruptions by customers from all over Turkey looking for specialty instruments. I finally settled on a beautiful, locally made, long-necked balağma made from olive wood. I’m looking forward to levering open the door to traditional and contemporary Turkish music with my new balagma in the new year.

Thank you Dore and Berkant!!

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