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The Flashing, Many Colored, Invasion of Istanbul’s Music Scene

May 27, 2010
bradspurgeon

My ears, eyes and nose were again last night invaded by the massive sounds, colors and smells of one of my two favorite locations for a Formula One race as I arrived in Istanbul for the Turkish Grand Prix this weekend.

This time, however, I have the additional pleasure of revisiting my musical territory of last year with Vanessa. So last night upon our arrival I took her around to the main places where I played and sought out music last year in what was also one of my favorite locations for the musical adventure.

There is no way to describe the invasion of the senses, really, without being there. I occasionally think of it as like a trip on LSD where all your senses kind of blend in together and you’re hit from several different directions and dimensions with emotional vibes that you find hard to categorize. Walking through the Taksim area and Beyoğlu at night all the bars have different kinds of music at full volume and it blasts you from all directions and you cannot really make out the sound of any one group. Ninety percent of it is live music, and so Istanbul is a fine place to be a musician. (That sounds like Hemingway. Remember, “fine.”)

We took a walk around last year’s places, so I dropped in and said hello to Mohammed at the BluesLive bar where we were invited to play with the band – and separately – on Friday and Saturday. I’ll write more about it and the other places as we re-live them more fully. The BluesLive bar was hosting film club night last night, however, so there was no music.

We went to Molly’s Café for a while and spoke to Molly and found she had moved to bigger quarters, across the street, and she invited us to come along to the musical evening on Saturday, and perhaps place. Molly is of Canadian origin, but lived in the United States to raise a family, and then came to Istanbul to run a school – and then she started her homey café near the Galatasaray Tower.

Because last year I visited Istanbul in June the Jazz Café, off Istiklal Street, was closed for the summer. It was one of the few places that has an official, occasional, open mic. So I dropped by there hoping it would be open – but it was again closed for the summer, relocating to some beach bar somewhere.

We dropped by, walking in front, of a couple of the other bars I played last year, but I made no attempt to play in them. Walking in front of another bar in Beyoğlu, however, I found myself being solicited as I was last year to enter and play some music myself, although there was already a Turkish musician playing. I would have to buy a beer, at least, of course. The bar was empty, however, and we had much walking and tourism to do, so we elected not to go in and play at this one. I’d have done it had I been alone, but I had no qualms not doing it while preferring to discover Istanbul with Vanessa.

Finished the night by going to one of the chicha bars to do the comparison between the chichi in Paris and the chicha in Istanbul that we had planned to do since smoking the pipe in Paris a few days ago. I will not make a habit of this, as I quit smoking 20 years ago and do not want to start again, particularly not with the lung destroying chichas…. We tried an apple chicha, and it was a lot rougher than what we had in Paris. Hit me in the head immediately. We were served at the bar by a rock and roller in his 20s with long curly locks and a beard and a black T-shirt with guitar necks on it and torn denim black pants with chains. He showed me his electric guitar – as he saw I had a guitar – which was an imitation Stratocaster. I let him play my Seagull acoustic, and he loved it – as is the usual way. He then played a couple of songs for us to listen to on his portable phone with Vanessa and I each using one ear bud. It was Turkish rock music. Kind of soft metal ballads.

I also revisted two times the place where I spent a couple of hours busking last year with a gypsy off Istiklal, but I did not see him or his friends. In any case, I had no desire to start busking again. But I will always remember the beautiful voice of the gothic woman violinist named Meltem, who came that first night last year and sang a few songs and listened to mine. I remember particularly also how I discovered afterwards the sound of the birds singing along above us.

I kept the recording I did of Meltem last year and present it here for you:

Meltem sings in the streets in Istanbul

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