Oriental music and jazz have one major key element in common: improvisation. The percussionist Burhan Ocal combines the traditions of Turkey, the classical court music of Seraglio and the folk music handed on by the Turkish Roma, with contemporary jazz. Burhan Ocal was born in the Thracian city of Kirklareli and now lives in Istanbul and Zürich.
The Turkish percussionist, Burhan Ocal, was born in the Thracian city of Kirklareli and has gained international repute by working together with such leading jazz musicians as Joe Zawinul, Maria João and Steve Swallow.
Burhan Ocal´s father was a teacher of old Ottoman languages and Arabic who happened to inherit a number of cinemas, coffee houses and other properties. As a result Burhan Ocal grew up in an environment where European films and theatre productions were just as much a part of everyday life as wedding celebrations and traditional festivals with music usually provided by Gypsy ensembles. From his father Burhan Ocal learned to play the darbuka hand drum and later other percussion instruments such as the kos, kudum and bendir, while his mother introduced him to religious Turkish vocal music. At the age if six Burhan Ocal was already performing at festivals and in the coffee house and, although not a Roma himself, he also came to know the rhythms of Gypsy music and later the art of Ottoman court music.
In the course of his musical career Burham Ocal concentrated on fusing the traditions of Turkish music, be it classical or traditional, with western classical music or jazz. Since 1977 he has been commuting between Istanbul and Zürich and has proved himself as a versatile musician mediating between the two worlds.
In the mid-nineties Burham Ocal gathered together some of Turkey´s best Roma musicians in the "Istanbul Oriental Ensemble" in order to revive the old Turkish tradition of 18th and 19th century Gypsy music. In Istanbul and Thracia, the European part of Turkey, Gypsy music has played an important role in the Turkish music scene dating back to the 10th century. The typical instruments used for this music are the darbuka, the kaman (fiddle) and the clarinet. The Gypsy songs and improvisations express the joys of life, sadness and longing. "Virtuosity is impossible without this special nostalgic feeling", says Burham Ocal. "This music is passed on verbally, never academically, so it always contains the spice of life." (Quoted from: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 20.4.2000)
As Islamic authorities have always had an ambivalent attitude towards music, it was often the Greeks, Jews and Gypsies who excelled as musicians and keyed the tune in the coffee houses of the Ottoman Empire and at the Sultan´s court. Burham Ocal´s popularity grew outside Turkey when the Network label in Frankfurt released his two albums "Gypsy Rum" and "Sultans´s Sectet Door" which focus on traditional motifs of the Turkish Roma and court music. In 1998 he made a guest appearance together with the "Istanbul Oriental Ensemble" at the highly acclaimed WOMAD Festival in England.
Burhan Ocal´s most recent project has taken him into more of a jazz stream: the "Groove alla Turca" album emerged together with bass player Jamaaladeen Tacuma and other jazz musicians from New York and Philadelphia. Four of these tracks include the singer Natacha Atlas. The album also includes trumpeter Jack Walrath who played before with Charles Minus, Art Baron on trombone, Ben Schachter on tenor sax, Daryl Burge percussion, and Rick Iannacone on guitar. The Turkish members of the "Istanbul Oriental Ensemble" increased to include Salih Nazim Peker on the Turkish saz lute and Arif Erdebil on the ney bamboo flute.
The musician Burhan Ocal was born in the city of Kirklareli in the European part of Turkey. His father owned a number of cafés and other establishments in Istanbul so that Burhan Ocal grew up surrounded by the music of the Gypsy ensembles who played there. His father taught him to play oriental percussion instruments, an art he later developed to perfection. However, Burhan Ocal and this group did not appear on the international scene until the mid-nineties with the release of his two albums "Gypsy Rum" and "Sultan´s Secret Door" on the Network label in Frankfurt which brought them invitations to international festivals.
In 2001 Burhan Ocal teamed up with US bass player Jamaaladeen Tacuma to create "Groove alla Turca", his biggest jazz fusion exploration to date.
Groove alla Turca
Double Moon / Night & Day 2000
Sultan´s Secret Door