Various ‘Music From Turkey featuring the Sameyda Ensemble CD (Caprice) 3/5

The Swedish label, Caprice Records are releasing ‘Music From Turkey’ as part of their ‘Music From’ series. As the title suggests, this album is a compendium of different Turkish musical styles, traditional and popular, classical and folk. It is actually two previous releases merged together .The first eleven tracks were released in 1973 on an album unsurprisingly called ‘Turkisk Musik’. It was recorded and compiled by record producer and ethnomusicologist, Deben Bhattacharya. The remaining twelve tracks are from the mid eighties by a group of Sweden based Turkish musicians called the Semeyda Ensemble. Accompanying the music, there is a 100 page document with essays on Turkish music and details of the recordings.

The ‘Turkisk Musik’ section is a typical world music sampler. We get a dizzying dash through folky tunes, some improvisational works on typical instruments such as the cura and the bağlama, music for dances like the Zeybek and then regional varieties from places such as Antep, Karadeniz and Erzurum. There’s a track of Dervish songs and also even military marching music. It is very ambitious to try to cover an entire nation’s musical traditions in just eleven tracks and the variety is bewildering. However, it is interesting as an educational tool and enhanced by having the booklet to browse while listening. This section is probably fascinating for ethnologists and anthropologists and there are some lovely, interesting tunes on here but it’s just not very coherent as an album of music.

The Semeyda tracks concentrate solely on modern versions of folk music so it provides a more lucid listening experience than the earlier tracks. Semeyda was a six piece group of multi-instrumentalists founded by singer, Sevinc Uygur. The instrumentation is traditional as is the performance. The only departure from the standards is the instrumental ‘Improvisation on Turkish and Bulgarian Bagpipes’. Uygur’s voice is pleasantly light and clear but a little nasal and slightly lacking in authority. Overall it’s an enjoyable set and rather conventional compared to some versions of these songs by other artists. It is a solid introduction to a form of music which is still relevant to modern Turkey. The standout tracks are ‘Değirmenci’, ‘Ayna Ayna Ellere’ and ‘Mani’.

‘Music From Turkey’ is a bit of a mixed bag. If it was just a re-release of ‘Turkisk Musik’, it would be useful in gaining knowledge of some of Turkey’s rich musical heritage, but for most listeners, I suspect it would sit unused on the shelf after barely a couple of listens. The combination of contrasting musical styles is jarring. Fortunately, the addition of the Sameyda tracks make this a music album rather than a museum exhibit and something to return to for pleasure after learning all you want from it.

Kevin Ward