Artist: BABA ZULA
Album: Hayvan Gibi
Format: 2LP, Digital
Label: Night Dreamer
- Eleventh LP from pioneering Turkish psych band BaBa ZuLa, their first ever studio-live
- Founded in 1996, BaBa ZuLa have scored numerous film soundtracks and collaborated
with artists as diverse as Mad Professor, Bugge Wesseltoft, and Jaki Liebezeit of Can
- Led by electric saz player Osman Murat Ertel, their raw psychedelic rock brings an
experimental modern streak to the classic Anadolu psych sound of the 1970s
The fifth instalment of Night Dreamer’s acclaimed Direct-to-Disc series welcomes Anadolu
psych legends BaBa ZuLa into Haarlem’s Artone Studio to cut an uncompromising live set of
fuzzed-out psychedelia, infused with the inimitable dubwise experimentalism that has cemented them as one of the global underground’s most exciting and original bands.
BaBa ZuLa describe their sound as ‘Psychedelic Istanbul Rock ’n Roll’ – a heady mixture that laces the classic Anadolu psych sound with modern electronics, dubwise studio smarts, and fiery left-field sonic radicalism. Founded in 1996 after the break up of experimental band ZeN, BaBa ZuLa began by scoring for film, before developing a style that pushed the classic Turkish psych sound of the 1970s forward into the 21st century.
The band are led by electric saz player Osman Murat Ertel, who grew up in the creative musical milieu of 1960s Istanbul. It was an era of innovation, when a new wave of musicians such as Erkin Koray and Barış Manço, and groups like Moğollar and Bunalım, were fusing the ancient folklore sounds of rural Anatolia with international psychedelic rock and pop to create the renowned musical fusion now known as Anadolu psych. Among the most important innovations of the era was the electrification of the saz, a seven-string bouzouki-like instrument also known as a baglama that dates back to 1000BC, and which is the most important instrument in Turkish folklore. As the microtonal sound of the saz was cranked up through electrification, the ancient folk music of the saz-playing ashiqs – travelling troubadours, able to speak truth to power from beyond the fringe of mainstream society – was made newly relevant for a modern generation. With the searing fuzz of Ertel’s virtuoso saz playing at the front and centre of the
BaBa ZuLa sound, this radically innovative tradition is the backbone of the group’s music.
But the BaBa ZuLa musical vision has always been exploratory. ‘BaBa ZuLa is a special group,’ explains Ertel today. ‘We are following traditional Turkish psychedelic folk, and mixing in stuff from all over the world, but we are not doing it the way people did that in the 1960s. We have other approaches.’ Most notably, Ertel’s love of reggae led to production collaborations with celebrated reggae artists including dub master Mad Professor and legendary rhythm team Sly and Robbie. Searching for input from motorik rock and electronics, they have worked with drummer Jaki Liebezeit of krautrock supremos Can and bassist Alexander Hacke of industrial experimentalists Einstürzende Neubauten, and with their penchant for improvisation they have worked with French improvising guitarist Titi Robin and Norwegian jazz legend Bugge Wesseltoft. With their feet planted firmly in the Anadolu psych of their Istanbul base, the
band have drawn threads from across the musical spectrum and woven them into a uniquely
outernational expression of psychedelic rock.
Dubwise studio flair is usually a big part of a BaBa ZuLa recording, but the full force of their music is best experienced live, where the magic of the boards is replaced by the sorcery of extended, trance-like jams lit up by scorching improvisation and super heavy riffs. It is in a live setting where the truly psychedelic aspects of their music become apparent. ‘I always like live playing,’ says Ertel. ‘I like improvisation, I think the real music is improvisation, and it is very precious.’
In keeping with Night Dreamer’s one-take, live-to-disc ethos, for this session BaBa ZuLa rocked it live in the studio, bringing the fiery energy of a gig performance to a raw studio session so expansive it required a 2LP to do it justice. ‘It was a musicians dream,’ says Ertel of the session. ‘Cutting direct to disc and doing a whole album live from start to finish, this was a challenge for us!’ he explains. ‘This way you cannot hide anything – you have to play the whole side of the record, in the best way, with all your flaws! he says. ‘With this record you can get as close as you can to a live BaBa ZuLa experience’.
BaBa Zula co-founder and percussionist Levent Akman agrees: ‘Being a member of the BaBa ZuLa group always means being ready for live recordings and concerts,’ he says. ‘The people who listened to our albums and came to our concerts sometimes told us that they couldn’t find the energy of the concerts in the albums. Every time we heard this comment it made us a bit sad. But I think that we have succeeded finally with these recordings. All the songs we recorded had an extreme positive aura to them.’
Murat Ertel also considers this session significant for another reason – it captures the band together just before the coronavirus pandemic separated them. ‘This record’s timing is also very important, because at the moment bands cannot perform,’ he says. ‘This makes the recording even more precious, because it was before the pandemic, and it shows the power of people playing together. The interplay between us, and the telepathy we have after more than twenty-five years together, really creates a group feeling.’
The result is an extraordinary recording that documents one of the world’s heaviest bands at a decisive moment in their twenty-five year history, putting everything into a live session that captures their visionary expression of classic Anadolu psychedelia at its most naturally incandescent.
About Hayvan Gibi
Hayvan Gibi is a concept album – the title means ‘to act with the natural grace of an animal’. Every song is named for a different creature, and title each brings with it a different story, some from the ancient past, some from BaBa ZuLa’s own history. Many of the songs have been recorded before in shorter studio versions, but on this record they are given the full live treatment.
A - Kücük Kurbaga (15:04)
‘Froggie’, a song composed for Ertel’s son, is 15 minutes of echoing fuzz and resonant rhythm with a
dash of electronics, with Ertel playing a special electric saz that he designed himself.
B - Sipa (dub) (15:12)
‘The Foal’ was composed for a donkey and its foal that Ertel met with during a journey to Turkey’s
Aegean coast. The band’s oud player and keyboardist Periklis Tsoukalas takes the lead on vocals and on
electric oud – the latter also an instrument of his own design.
C1 - Kelebekler Kuslar (09:05)
‘Butterflies and Birds’. A song based on a stanza by the 14th century mystical poet Nesîmî, in which the
poet dreams of visiting both sky and earth. Ertel plays the smaller-sized Cura saz – the faster parts
represent the quick movement of butterflies, while the slower sections soar like birds.
C2 - 4 Nal (04:28)
A breath-taking, head-nodding showcase for BaBa ZuLa’s virtuoso percussionist Ümit Adakale.
D1 - Tavus Havasi (3:53)
A version of the very first BaBa ZuLa song ever written, composed by Ertel beside the sea after hearing a
gull call which reminded him of the cry of the peacock. The composition originally appeared as the first
song on the soundtrack for the film Tabutta Rövaşata, BaBa ZuLa’s first release in 1996.
D2 - Çöl Aslanlari (07:52)
A favourite in BaBa ZuLa’s live sets, the brooding ‘Çöl Aslanlari’ was composed for a 1998 stage
production of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.