“Kemani Cemal plays with superb assurance, and is supported by his band, each of whom is a pyrotechnic virtuoso in his own right...”
“Kemani Cemal has the ornery tone of a backwoods fiddler”
The New York Times
“a dazzling show of impassioned playing”
Baltimore City Paper
“Cemal’s long, serpentine solos slither over percolating rhythms...” Chicago Reader
“heated, heartfelt playing...over enticing rhythmic beds. Improvisational and emotional abandon, spun off of simple themes....”
Sulukule is a legendary district of Istanbul famous for Rom (Gypsy) music and bellydance. Recorded in Istanbul, this album features Kemani Cemal, one of Turkey’s greatest Roma violinists, performing some of the most exciting and authentic renditions of rhythmic dances such as the çiftetelli and karsilama.
INCLUDES COMPREHENSIVE LINER NOTES ON THE HISTORY OF ROM MUSIC AND DANCE IN ISTANBUL, WITH TURKISH LYRICS AND ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS.
Recorded in the 1970s, this album became legendary among Middle Eastern musicians in Turkey and the US. Since its reissue in 2000, the 75-year-old Kemani Cemal and his Sulukule ensemble, featuring the extraordinary old-style bellydancer Berguzar (herself in her late 60s), have been invited to perform at concerts and festivals in Europe and North America.
Kemani Cemal Cinarli (violin)
Bigali Ahmet (G clarinet)
Necati Dinletir (ud)
Ismail Sencal (kanun)
Bigali Ibrahim (darbuka)
1. Bu yil bekar kalalim 6:16
2. Mavisim 5:22
3. Kirkpinar Çiftetellisi 6:19
4. Aksaray’in Taslari 5:29
5. Gel Beriye Beriye 4:18
6. Yedinci Cocuk 6:48
7. Ne Yalan Soyleyeyim 6:02
8. Aslan Bacanak 6:28
9. Gelin Havasi 3:10
10. Karsilama 5:14
The Turkish Gypsy violin player Kemani Cemal is one of the most respected musicians in Turkey today. Known for his remarkable mastery of Turkish taksim (improvisation), Cemal fronts wedding and nightclub Gypsy ensembles throughout Western Turkey. He has been a leading figure in the Turkish recording industry for 20 years. Cemal is one of the last living links to two of the great musical traditions in Turkey: the classical Gypsy wedding ensemble, based on elaborate, competing and skillful improvisation, and the Istanbul nightclub ensemble, centered around complex interpretations of the classical makam (modal system) and the direct source for some of the best Radio ensembles and traditional music recordings from the 1930s through the ‘60s. Born in 1928, the 76-year-old Cemal grew up in Edirne’s Gypsy musician neighborhood, learning music from his father (a singer and darbuka player). His family moved to Istanbul’s musician neighborhood called Lonca in 1937. Submerged in the environment that had produced great Gypsy musicians such as Klarnetci Ibrahim, Kemani “Bulbul” Salih, and Kemani Memduh (“kemani” means ‘violin-master’), Kemani Cemal began playing at local Gypsy (Roman) weddings. He went on to play lead violin in Istanbul’s theater circuit, and fasil (classical suite) music in nightclubs across Turkey, including Bursa, Izmir, Kandira, Erzurum, and in Istanbul, where he played nightly with such legends as Yorgo Bacanos, Safiye Ayla, and Udi Hrant. He still actively performs fasil music in Istanbul nightclubs and in recordings of Turkish classical music.
Turkey’s Gypsy wedding ensembles are giving way to the one-man wedding synthesizer; Turkish classical music has long since handed over much of its improvisational finesse to the bureaucracy of Radio orchestras and sheet music; Istanbul’s famous Gypsy musician neighborhood, teeming with musicians and dancers and producing some of Turkey’s best and most unique musicians, has slowly dispersed (two years ago the police raided the Gypsy neighborhood of Sulukule where Kemani Cemal still lives, closing down the impromptu bellydance nightclubs which have sustained the area). Kemani Cemal is an extroardinary representative of the great crossing point of Turkish music which Istanbul has been in this century: a place where Gypsy wedding music and classical Ottoman music merged, building a style and repertoire, based fundamentally on structured improvisation, which has influenced music from Bulgaria to Egypt. Remarkably, before the year 2000 Kemani Cemal had never toured outside of Turkey. American and European musicians (particularly Armenians and Turks) have long listened to Cemal’s improvisations on the recording Sulukule, originally released as a Turkish cassette in the 1970s, and re-released in 2000 in Traditional Crossroads’ audiophile series as Sulukule: Rom Music of Istanbul. In 2000, the Kemani Cemal Ensemble performed at the prestigious Ravenna Festival in Italy, the DeSingel Concert Hall in Antwerp, Belgium, and in the Balkanalia Festival in Milan, Italy. In September 2002, the group performed for the first time in North America, appearing in New York City and Chicago.
About the current touring ensemble:
The group’s performance showcases violin taksims by Kemani Cemal, intermixed with Kemani Cemal’s arrangements of traditional Gypsy repertoire (including the classic karsilama and çiftetelli), which feature singing and dancing. Kemani Cemal’s group consists of six persons: 5 musicians, playing violin (Kemani Cemal); clarinet; ud; kanun; and darbuka (percussion, played by Kemani Cemal’s grandson); and 1 dancer, Bergüzar (who also plays violin, zils, tef and bendir, and sings). Bergüzar (heard singing on the CD) is a 64-year-old professional Gypsy dancer from Sulukule. The impression of “belly dance” in Turkey is much distorted by the popularity of Arabic “oriental” bellydance, imported to Istanbul from Egypt and the version of bellydance, with its wide floor movements and erotic costume, most familiar to audiences abroad. Traditional Turkish Gypsy dance, displaced by “oriental” dance in urban nightclubs but still performed at all Gypsy weddings, is known as “ çengi,” and can be traced back to Gypsy dancers in the Ottoman court in the 19th century, as well as Anatolian and Aegean village dance from the early 20th century. The çengi dancer wears a long dress tucked into a belt at the waist and dances with short, fluid movements. Bergüzar is one of the better-known dancers in this style in Western Turkey.
“Though he’s something of a jobber, having scraped by for years playing weddings and accompanying belly dancers in Turkey, 74-year-old Gypsy musician Kemani Cemal is a monster fiddler and master improviser. On Sulukule, he fronts a group of veteran Gypsy players in a round of the gorgeously sorrowful dance music that for many years kept the cafes of Sulukule--an Istanbul neighborhood that was once a Gypsy enclave--hopping; these days it’s tourist music if it gets heard at all. Cemal’s long, serpentine solos slither over percolating rhythms played on the darbouka, an ancient hand drum; clarinet arrives in vocalic sobs, chuckles, and sighs; and lightning-quick improvisations on the kanun, a type of zither, are marvels of pointillistic melody.”
“To a great extent the restaurants, bars and nightclubs of Istanbul still render employment to live musicians more versatile than any Western DJ and with a wider repertoire, greater flexibility and infinitely more panache. The vast majority of these musicians are Romany, and Traditional Crossroads has here recorded one of the most celebrated of them, the 75-year-old violinist Kemani Cemal, along with his band--clarinet, ud, kanun and darbuka, plus three female singers. Kemani Cemal plays with superb assurance, and is supported by his band, each of whom is a pyrotechynic virtuoso in his own right, as the fiery cascades of notes or lazy arabesques from the kanun or clarinet, all above the relentlessly powerful drumming of Bigali Ibrahim, attest. Ibrahim also features as vocalist on ‘Ne Yalan Soyleyelim’, where his singing betrays unexpected echoes of flamenco. Other outstanding moments are the track ‘Kirkpinar Ciftetellesi’, an absolutely magnificent violin improvisation above a tense and grim ostinato from the rhythm section, the driving opener “Bu yil bekar kalalim’, and Kemani Cemal’s popular classic ‘Mavisim’, with its pair of splendid solos from the kanun and violin. The truly comprehensive and highly informative notes are the icing on a very rich and toothsome cake.”
“Clearly Gypsy culture is a bold inspiration on the international music scene, as heard in the heated, heartfelt playing of violinist Kemani Cemal and clarinetist Bigali Ahmet over enticing rhythmic beds. Improvisational and emotional abandon, spun off of simple themes, is the rule, wriggling bellies or no.”
“Remember those cheesy bellydancing albums you used to see in the ‘world music’ bins at your local record store? Well, this reissue once was one of those albums; these 10 tunes were recorded in Istanbul back in the 70s and released in the United States only on cassette. As serious US fans of Turkish music discovered, however, the recording featured genuine Turkish Gypsy--or, more accurately, Rom--music, performed by some of Turkey’s foremost musicians. Now Traditional Crossroads returns this wonderful recording to circulation--with a much nicer cover.
Sulukule derives its title from one of Istanbul’s Rom neighborhoods, where music still echoes from small gatherings stocked with food, liquor, and the best bellydancers in the city. It’s no surprise that the songs, sung by a three-woman chorus, deal mostly with love, drunkenness, and adversity. But just as a jazz tune’s head is usually a preamble to the real playing, the musicians get the party started in earnest once the lyrics end.
Legendary Turkish Rom violinist Kemani Cemal leads a fabulous five-piece traditional band....During the improvisational middle sections of the pieces, the musicians try to outdo their formidable band mates in a dazzling show of impassioned playing. Cemal warms things up with his fiery, keening runs on the opening piece, his own composition ‘Bu yil bekar kalalim.’ By the middle section of the traditional 9/8-meter Turkish folk song ‘Aksaray’in Taslari’, Sencal is spurring on Ahmet’s smoky lines with his own shrieking glissandi while the chorus shouts encouragement. ‘Aslan Bacanak’ finds Cemal and Ahmet in competition to find the most graceful, lilting paths across hand-drummer Bigali Ibrahim’s subtly-accented 2/4 time.
Sulukule is full of such moments, delivering the kind of exuberant musicianship that travels well across cultural lines.”
Baltimore City Paper
“Judging by Sulukule’s jacket notes, finding a Gypsy dance party in Istanbul involves as manty cryptic operations as locating a London rave. The music is worth the effort: cascades of mysterious chords whirling over a deep groove anchored by hand drums and propelled by jangly strings and woodwinds. Curiously, some tracks made for this disc are strickingly similar to some of John Cale’s contributions to the Velvet Underground, with their Eastern drones and clanky percussiveness.”
“Here’s one a cut above the ordinary. Sulukule is the Roman (Gypsy) neighborhood of Istanbul near the Edirne Gate that is known for its music and bellydancing. Since the late 15th century Rom musicians immigrated from the far p
oints of the Turkish empire, bringing with them musical styles and instruments that set their music apart from the national Turkish forms. Stripped to its essence, this is a hot, very hot, genre. These Rom ensembles perform for dances, weddings, and social events. You might think of it as Roman folk party music.”
Victory Music Review
“Most casual listeners don’t immediately think of Turkey when they think of Gypsy music, but that country has always been one of the spawning grounds for the music of the Indo-European culture of the Gypsies. The rich and wonderful style of çiftetelli and karsilama, best known as bellydance music, goes way beyond those lounge records from the ‘40s and ‘50s. Kemani Cemal Cinarli is one of the contemporary masters of this rich musical heritage, a violinist of high skill and deep understanding. Backed by an ensemble of ud, darbuka, kanun, and some searing clarinet from Bigali Ahmet, Kemani Cemal pulls a varied collection of wild shrieks, slides, and rapid-fire trills from his violin, creating beauty and tension to drive the dancers (and the CD listener) on and on. Well recorded and very well remastered, these recordings offer a contemporary look at an ages-old musical tradition that still thrives and grows in Istanbul.”
amazon.com, editor’s review