Don’t leave your shadow behind when pursuing enlightenment.
This nice bit of ethno and trance dance is a contemporary ode, offered by the Turkish-Canadian sound brewer Mercan Dede to his master, the famous mystic Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi, born 800 years ago. Among the Mevlevi brotherhood, as Rumi’s followers call themselves, Dede’s musical ideas are controversial. That’s not because he abandoned the classical set of instruments that accompany the whirling dervishes (practitioners of the spiritual Sufi rotation dance)—including ney (flute) and qanun (dulcimer)—but because he amplifies them and manipulates their sound with electronics. On top of that, he shamelessly enhances the traditional idiom with steamy grooves and hip samples. To add insult to injury, Dede introduced female dervishes. Mira Burke and Tanya Evanson caused a stir during Mercan Dede and Secret Tribe’s first Turkish tour a few years ago, but even in Turkey, young women, inspired by Dede’s example, have begun to whirl.
Strengthened by his success at world music festivals and on rock stages, Arkin Alicali (Dede’s real name) feels confident about the path he has chosen. His international breakthrough in 2002, with the spectacular album NAR (“fire”), was followed by two lesser discs, but 800 achieves full rehabilitation. Apart from a few familiar names, such as qanun virtuoso Göksel Baktagir, oud player Yurdal Tokcan and fiddler Neva Özgen (daughter of the legendary kemence master Ihsan Özgen), the Tribe currently includes Ismail Tunçbilek, with his electric baglama, and young Turkish rapper Ceza. Another wonderful addition is Hasan Gözetlik on trumpet and trombone. Although Dede’s music remains firmly rooted in the Ottoman tradition (many of his samples were taken from 78 rpm discs dating back to the glorious era of court music), he keeps exploring new territories, such as Balkan brass and Egyptian strings. By doing so, he has secured the viability of this ancient spiritual tradition for at least a few more centuries.