Wednesday, January 13, 1999

International Neighborhood

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Sulukule isn't a band -- it's actually a Turkish neighborhood. Amid Istanbul's ancient stone walls and winding streets is a section called Sulukule, famous for its Rom (Gypsy) music. This album features music of one of Sulukule's most renowned residents, violinist and composer Kemani Cemal -- whose name is surprisingly absent from the cover. A living legend among Turkish Gypsies, he is virtually unknown here in North America.

Cemal, now 70, like many Gypsy musicians, plays a wide variety of music including classical, folk, wedding and belly dance music, working for a variety of patrons in order to eke out a living. Sulukule features 10 tracks of folk dance and wedding songs. The music is both Turkish and Gypsy. More than 1000 years ago, the Gypsies migrated from India through Central Asia to Eastern, Central and Mediterranean Europe. Often thought of as nomadic, most Gypsies actually set up roots throughout Europe nearly two centuries ago. As a result, their music has become a mix of both Gypsy and local traditions.

In Turkey, Gypsies have been part of the music scene since the 15th century. The Gypsy folk songs and rhythms one hears around Sulukule incorporate quite a strong Turkish flavor, including the kanun (a laptop zither), oud (fretless lute) and darbuka (hand drum). The clever lyrics deal with many typical Gypsy themes: living amidst poverty and discrimination, plus amusing wedding stories reminiscent of the "Jerry Springer Show." Cemal's fiddle wizardry is beautifully matched by a trio of deep-voiced female singers. Throw in a touch of vocal improvisation, hand clapping, abrupt changes in tempo and the result is the complete Turkish Gypsy experience.


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