Istanbul is a city that has been primed over hundreds of years to be a global selector of sound. The city once called ‘alem penah,’ or refuge of the universe, has been the host to world travelers arriving ready to hustle in the marketplace of civilization. Along with silks and spices, these nomads were ambassadors of their culture, carrying their precious gems of sound. From the private drawing rooms of the Ottoman Empire to blue smoked filled jazz clubs of the 70’s, the Turkish ear has been trained to be the Sultan of sound selection.
The refined Turkish ear has had a hand in mainstreaming soul and R&B into pop music in the west. Artists in the 50s era had incredible talent and perseverance; however, the riddle in the music industry is that it’s not based only on talent. It’s the scout, the scoop, and the serve that can make backyard bebop “successful.” The ears of one of the most influential labels in American history, Atlantic Records, belonged to brothers Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün, sons to the first Turkish ambassador to the US. The Ertegün brothers’ love of music literally opened doors for jazz, soul and R&B musicians, turning the Turkish Embassy into a weekly jam session station.
Photo by Tasha Goldberg
Although these brothers were raised abroad, they were born from the lineage of sound aficionados in Turkish bloodlines. The Turkish preference for the voice of the Spanish and Arabic clarinet along with the love of ‘taksims,’ or instrumental improvisations, paved the way, among other things, for a genuine and seasoned appreciation of jazz music. Although not many people suspect a direct line to Africa on the map of evolution of jazz in Turkey, one of the top jazz clubs in 1970s Istanbul, located in the Galata Kulesi, was run by the legendary South African Johnny Dyani and Turkish Okay Temiz, a percussionist specializing in African instruments.
Okayafrica caught up with Okay Temiz to talk about the African influence on jazz and his incredible music career, which includes playing with the top cats of jazz and carving and engineering his own instruments. Among his many accomplishments, he composed the music for Turkish National Television in the late 70s, the only legal public channel at the time. Okay Temiz is a visionary, a man who has mastered the language of jazz, and translated the power of music for those in need. Thanks to support from the Swedish government, he developed workshops to share his knowledge with youth, promote corporate teamwork through rhythm and used sound to help heal children with special needs and victims of earthquakes. Temiz has created an atelier of sound for Istanbul, hosting legendary musicians to keep jazz alive and well fed by hosting workshops and concerts with visiting artists such as Mamady Keita, master drummer from Guinea, Adama Dramé, Djembé player from Burkina-Faso, Yamar Thiam, Senegalese drummer, and the legend N’Diaye Rose, Senegalese master of sabar drum, in his late eighties who has played with Josephine Baker and Miles Davis.
Postcard of Okay Temiz
“Africa is a big part of my life,” considered Okay as he reflected on the most significant and influential times in his career: his days in Stockholm. Although he may have been living in a northern European city, through sound, Okay was in Africa. His days were filled with meeting, jamming and living with the top African and African American musicians of the time including South African pianist Chris McGregor and American born trumpeter Don Cherry. Temiz became known in the jazz circuits for his ability to play music in time signatures that most people could not even count in and ended up on tour with the Don Cherry Trio where he met Johnny Dyani.
Temiz and Dyani played together in their jazz club in Istanbul and produced an epic album in 1976, Witchdoctor’s Son featuring Saffet Gundeger on clarinet. The album reflects the funk and psychedelic tones of the times as well as the prominent African and eastern influences. Temiz and Dyani later recorded Music for Xaba with Mongezi Feza on trumpet, the first record in the Keith Knox Universal Folk Series based on the philosophy that “there is fundamentally but one music.” Dyani and Mongezi Feza were both from the Xhosa tribe along with fellow musician Miriam Makeba, and had been band mates in The Blue Notes, credited for transforming the early British jazz scene and breaking down race barriers. The trio also produced an album by Cadillac records called Rejoice. Sonic delicacies, prepared by these jazz legends and others, are still available in the streets of Istanbul. Between calls to prayer, hustlers chants, and jazz clouds that billow underground, world music is being expertly curated by top-shelf record shops.
On the European side of the city, DeForm Muzik, owned by Tayfun Aras and partner Ozan Maral, is a vinyl collectors dream complete with superb selections and plenty of listening stations. When you walk through the doors, you could be greeted with some far out sounds such as the ex-Soviet vocal quartet Gaya, Indonesian Kroncong music, or maybe some Japanese 80’s music like Hikashu. Most shoppers are coming in to feed on the healthy collection of Turkish rock from the 60’s-80’s such as Baris Manço, Cem Karaca, and Erkin Koray. The shop has great jazz and world music sections where Okayafrica dug out some favorites:
– Herbie Mann, 1967 album Impressions of the Middle East, “Turkish Coffee”
– Alhaji Sikiru Avinde Barrister, Iwa
– Okay Temiz, Oriental Wind
– Johnny Dyani, Witchdoctor’s Son
– Living is Hard: West African Music in Britain, 1927-1929. Out of the EMI archives, a compilation featuring folk music and recordings from visiting and resident West African musicians
– The World is Shaking: Cubanismo from the Congo, 1954-55. Also part of the EMI archive compilation series, the album has rare photographs and was restored in Abbey Road Studios
– Danses et chants Bedouins de Tunise
– The funky saxophone of Cameroonian Manu Dibango, “Big Blow”
Photo by Tasha Goldberg
cross the sea, on the Asian side of Istanbul, following a narrow passage of book vendors lays another pot of gold for the lover of wax: Zihni Muzik. Family run, the shop offers not only a great selection, also a interesting dialogue in tracing sound pathways around the globe. Okayafrica picked through the bins and came across these treasures:
– Tinariwen, Tassili
– Okay Temiz Trio, Turkish Folk Jazz
– Nigerian Babtunde Olatunji, Drums of Passion
– Senegalese Touré Kunda, Casamance au Clair de Lune
– Manu Dibango, Makossa Man
– Manu Dibango, Ambassador (recorded in Jamaica)
– Ralph MacDonald, Sound of a Drum
Photo by Tasha Goldberg
Perhaps the most impressive of all the Turkish record shops is Zoltan’s Strange Boutique & Record Store. Okayafrica sat in on a Sunday afternoon listening session with owner Emek Tulus, catching part of the soundtrack of the city. Emek has a respectful and pure approach to the business, describing himself as “…not just a dealer who tries to make more money… a music lover, trying to collect some great records from my personal experiences for the customers.” His impeccable musical style and taste are refined, yet able to unearth the classics in a relatable way. As a kid who began as an illustrator, he still gets that starry look when describing the first album he bought, Jefferson Airplane with Ron Cobbs’ sleeve art. Growing up in Istanbul, he was attracted to the heavier punk sounds that soundtracked liberal left politics and helped to contributed the collection of album art during the illegal publishing of Turkish punk 1977-96. These days, Emek has navigated the hallways of world sounds, playing as a DJ around Europe. Emek has a special love for jazz, describing the flavor in Istanbul as a bit avant-guard. Emek explained the mystery in free form jazz, nodding to the greats of long play records. He highlighted the mature taste of music in Istanbul, playing a few albums that were released in Turkey before hitting the US and Europe due to the city’s bankable love for the soul, funk and jazz and world music.
Nigerian trumpeter/singer/percussionist Ray Stephen Oche released Revelational Music in Turkey. Okayafrica pulled these top picks from his bins:
– Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Africa ’70 with Ginger Baker
– Franco Luambo and the O.K. Jazz
– Lonnie Liston Smith, Astral Traveling *Smith visited Emek’s shop and told him the story of first touching the Fender Rhodes electric piano when recording with Pharaoh Sanders’ Thembi where the song “Astral Traveling” first was recorded. This album was released two years later.
– Thelonious Monk, Straight, No Chaser
– Baris Manco, 2023
– Mustafa Kandirali (Turkish belly dance music)
– Turkish rockstar Erkin Koray, Elektronik Turkuler
– Cuban-born percussionist Candido Camero, The Thousand Finger Man
– Moroccan Orchestre National Sahraoui, El Wali
Istanbul will always be a city of layers, ancient parts preserved in time under the huffs of hookah smoke with always a new sprouting dimension underway. The city offers more than monuments and staggering shopping stalls at the Grand Bazaar. The city offers a solid education in sound selection.