Elektro Saz 1976 – 1984 is a new compilation of gems hand-picked from the extensive and exhaustive Uzelli label back catalogue and is expertly curated by Esma Ertel and Murat Ertel, the lead vocalist and electric saz player of BaBa ZuLa, the legendary Istanbul based psych group. The Ertels also contribute to the beautiful but garish packaging which wallows in the exotic 70s vibe and the informative sleeve notes.
However, the story of this compilation starts over a thousand miles away from Turkey. Muamer and Yavuz Uzelli founded Uzelli Kaset in Hamburg in the early 1970s, peddling cassettes of music from the home country to the Turkish Gastarbeiter ex-pat communities lured to West Germany by the hope of new opportunities and loads of Deutsche Marks. By the late 70s, having released albums by most of the stars of Turkish music as well as German-based musicians, Uzelli relocated to Istanbul.
It’s hard to undersell the importance of the saz or bağlama in Turkish music. It is the main instrument of the folk music catalogue promoted by the new republic in 1920s after the perceived decadence of the Ottoman era. It is to Turkish music as the guitar is to the blues. During the second half of the 20th century, it is inevitable that someone would attach a pick up and plug in much to the dismay of purists.
The 13 tracks showcase the sonic possibilities of electric saz. It is fuzzy and raw with a garage rock feel with Kina Gecesi Ensemble on “Misket” and “Ari Yildiz”. It’s the smooth polished phase and wah-wah affected sounds in the opener “Darıldım Darıldım” from Akbaba İkilisi, immigrants to West Germany themselves. It’s the ideal companion for the more folky singing style of Mehtap Tuna on “Gönül doği” and also Handan Yazgan on “Mavilım Hangi Ellidir”. Electric saz can take centre stage in the hands of Sarı Zeki on the groovier tracks like “Topal” and “Dom Dom Kurşunu”. The phasey saz melody lines intertwine with the slap bass on Aşik Emrah’s disco workout “20 Asrin Bozuk Düzeni”, which closes the album.
Above all though, the variety and consistent quality of all the tracks make this essential to anyone with a passing interest of Anadolu Pop. Without albums like this, our only access to some of this amazing music would be fruitless digging for those obscure old tapes. Like Uzelli’s excellent Psychedelic Anadolu compilation, released a few years ago, this is aimed at an international audience but skilfully avoids the more obvious artists such as Erkin Koray, Cem Karaca, Bariş Manço or Selda Bağcan. While some modern-day acts like Gaye Su Akyol and Altin Gün successfully recall the styles from this era, it’s good to get to hear the real deal.