Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Baba Zula at Drom, NYC 9/24/08

The opening night of this year’s Drom Gypsy Festival was packed: you should definitely get advance tickets for any of the upcoming shows (listed on our NYC Live Music Calendar) that you’re planning on seeing, not only because they’re often a considerable bargain compared to the day-of-show cover charge, but because some of these will undoubtedly sell out. In a clever stroke of marketing, the promoters haven’t limited the festival strictly to gypsy music, Taraf de Haidouks style. But the bands on the bill all share a gypsy esthetic: ingenious, defiantly nonconformist, well-traveled and inspired by every stop along the way.


Istanbul trio Baba Zula, an apt choice as festival opener, put on a raw, primeval, stomping yet trance-inducing performance. They may be about as gypsy as Yo La Tengo (whose music some of theirs closely resembles), but they had most of the crowd on their feet, unable to stop swaying. Frontman Murat Ertel plays an electrified saz, a long-necked lute with three pairs of vibrating strings, which he ran through a large pedalboard and a big Fender Twin amp using several rock effects including wah-wah, delay, distortion and a loop pedal. Frequently, the loops would create a dense, echoey forest of notes that would appear out of nowhere and then cascade away just as quickly. Wearing a ski cap and wrinkled traditional shirt over a t-shirt and sweatpants, he projected a menacing, somewhat nonplussed presence, like a bear who’s been awoken from hibernation ahead of schedule and doesn’t like it one bit. He and the band – two percussionists, one on hand drum and another working a mixing board and using a pair cymbals for the occasional dramatic, gong-style splash – took their time getting started. Baba Zula’s music is nothing if not original, equal parts traditional Turkish folk, classic Egyptian dance music, dub reggae, indie rock and – at least as far as stage moves are concerned – heavy metal. Ertel opened with a meandering improvised intro before the drums (including a drum machine run through a bass amp, which they used on a few songs) came in. Spacey washes of noise would oscillate through the mix from time to time, further enhancing the trancey effect.


Ertel sung mainly in Turkish, punctuating the scattered lyrics with frequent grunts and roars. One of the songs, sung in English, seemed to be about Alexander the Great; another was titled Ice Cream, although it was anything but chilly. Eventually the band brought up a clarinetist, who built methodically to an intense crescendo on the intro of the band’s single best song of the night, a darkly slinky snakecharmer tune, before retreating to play washes of sound against the clang and twang of the saz. Then the bellydancers – a whole parade of them – each took a turn onstage and that really got the crowd going. By this time, Ertel was warmed up and paid considerable attention to the women onstage, finally going dos-a-dos with one of them as he brought one of his solos to its peak. Finally, as the show wound up, Ertel hit his distortion pedal and let his instrument roar, but it was a somewhat restrained, ominous, lower-register roar, not the scream you’d typically hear from an electric guitar. To the right of the stage, a woman sat impassively at a laptop, creating etch-a-sketch style drawings that were projected onto a screen above the band. If this show was any indication, the next week or so here is going to be great fun.

September 25, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews

1 Comment »

  1. I saw Baba Zula at Istanbul last year and they are an impressive live act to say the least.

    Comment by Argyris | October 31, 2009 | Reply

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