11 February 2015
When it comes to rock'n'roll innovators from Turkey, "Erkin Koray" is second to none. Indeed, his career stretches to the time of rock'n'roll's very inception. In 1957, he performed what has come to be accepted as Turkey's first known rock'n'roll concert when he fronted his first amateur band at an Istanbul high school playing covers of hits by Elvis Presley and Fats Domino. He was also one of Turkey's very first electric guitarists, recording what is generally recognised as being the first significant rock'n'roll record ever released in Turkey in 1962. Little wonder he is referred to in his homeland as "Baba Erkin" , for he truly is the father of Turkish rock'n'roll in every way.
The manner in which he kicked up squalling Fuzztone, stinging sustain, resounding reverb and redoubtable distortion as he wielded his 6-string scimitar into an organised and organic freak-storm like nobody's business is astonishing. His style is hard to pin down, as it continually unfolded out and beyond the boundaries of rock'n'roll, later incorporating "baglama" (a Turkish stringed instrument; also known as a "saz") and merging it all together with Turkish music styles that cut into and across elements of Surf, Psychedelia, until it became ALL things beyond at once.
To top it off, most of his best records included placing his expressively sonorous vocals centre stage as if to buffer his many axe attacks, which only made for a highly incongruous and intriguing mix of emotional shading oftentimes completely at odds with itself.
"Elektronik Türküler" (Doğan Plak - L.P 1) begins with the traditional Anatolian ballad "Karlı Dağlar" ("Snowy Mountains") and the sound that first emerges are those of the plucked four strings of the baglama and the sound is both sensuous and languid as hell. With the sound of a telephone ringing to break the previous supinely-inducing spell, another belly dance undulation rises to the surface with Koray's instrumental, "Sır" ("Secret") his lead baglama book-ending a middle break where he suddenly lets loose with a stinging and entirely Psychedelic guitar solo.
The mood all changes with the next track, "Hele Yar", an acoustic re-arrangement of a Turkish ballad from the 17th Century by the Anatolian troubadour, Karacaoglan.
The title translates into either "Special Lover" or "Let's Go, Girl!" and it sounds exactly like both, it's the most happy-go-lucky moment of the album as twin baglamas construct a dance rhythm behind lilting bass and scant drums.
Produced within a few minutes during a break, the brief instrumental "Korkulu Rüya" ("Nightmare") runs rampant with sinister organ chords held down as if they sleep's suffocating pillow itself as backwards electric guitar streaks by laser-like as all the while a steady bass line lurks watches from a distance as though it's the Türküdelic cousin of "Careful With That Axe, Eugene".
Koray freaks out on the organ in-between yelps and panting in terror until finally and with harried relief jerks awake to find himself back in his Istanbul pad. With its muffled T-Rex/Stones groove, a cover of "Kemal İnci"'s "Yalnızlar Rıhtımı" ("The Wharf of the Lonely Ones") is the most Western moment (but not the best) of the album.
Taking its title from a 1959 Turkish film, piano and bass buoyantly carry the melody from wharf side out into the open sea and past the promontories of care. By the end, Koray just drops off his vocal and is content to wedge in a glowing guitar solo that tears off and into the remainder of the track. Koray intones a final verse of aaaaahh-s along with it, but his solo just carries along to the end, permanently anchored to the rhythm.
Side two opens with the acoustic guitar-led love ballad, "Cemalim" ("My Cemal"). Written by the early 20th Century Folk composer "Ürgüplü Refik Başaran", this well known Anatolian Folk number is here strung up by Koray's stridently strummed acoustic guitar that continues unbendingly throughout against overdubbed electric guitar placed in patches with excellent accenting. The voices of Sedat Avci, the drummer and Meftun waft softly in the background, echoing Koray's hypnotising vocal repetition of the title as he accompanies himself with highly controlled Fuzz guitar and shuddering, filigrees. Halfway through, it continues on with the repeat of a single word for an extended period and just rolls with the tide of Koray's acoustic rhythm, gradually slowing in tempo to a beautifully (bitter-) sweet conclusion.
The brief instrumental, "İnat" ("Stubbornness") opens with guitar at top volume gain, and it's a roomful of Koray-ian Fuzz guitars with nowhere to do and nothing to go except to butt heads against themselves and the studio walls in this drum-less dual guitar solo against Koray's double-tracked bongo backing. This proto-metal taxim/improvisation then falls away without warning and immediately into the nine-minute Eastern mystery odyssey that is "Türkü" ("Ballad"), a piece co-written by the Turkish poet "Nazım Hikmet" and the father of modernised "türkü" ("Folk ballads"), "Ruhi Su". With an opening flourish of reeds and drums the band then breaks down to allow Koray his sole baglama spot to establish the main theme.
Then "Ahmet Tekbilek" (the bassist)'s "kalem", that Turkish double-reed wind instrument of snake charming tendencies riffs and weaves into a truly Psychedelic arabesc. A flourish on the guitar and the voice of Erkin emerges from the shadows with cave-like reverb, slowly reciting words of great import.
The reeds come in and weave once more and the band is propelling itself steadily faster with Dervish-like rotary-ness. Koray's fingering guitar trembles against weaving woodwind and everything is flying high until a quick drum accent signals an abrupt breakdown where breaking glass shattering the calm. But the high pitched woodwind continues even sweeter than before, picking itself up from the broken glass to charm back the vibe and the band enters at a pace even quicker and more muscular than before. A single baglama returns, needle-pointing back the main theme as Koray's guitar and his trance-like intonation carries further and further back into time and Koray's brain with each repeated "Bizim nos plak..." each word gaining further and further into ancestral echo-land where East is West and West is East...