Graham Reid | | 5 min read
The wheel of history is turning faster and faster.
Once, you could understand how Greece, which gave the world the important building blocks of democracy and philosophy, was labouring under the gun of a military dictatorship in the 20th century.
Or how Rome, which once commanded a massive empire, had descended into the political chaos which is modern day Italy with its revolving door governments.
These – and the decline of great Indus and South American civilisations – were explicable because centuries had passed between the Great Days and the Appalling Now.
But today, making America “great again” seems to mean returning to the racially divided, McCarthy era of the Fifties.
And Jeez . . . that wasn't so long ago, even in these amnesiac times.
And Turkey, once the centre of a great empire itself is right now devolving into . . . ?
Well, who knows?
The Turks certainly don't, but the future doesn't look bright.
It's hard to believe when you look at the riots, military presence and increasingly oppressive regime in that divided nation that Turkey once had innovative psychedelic music, a music which celebrated freedom.
Yet they did . . . and, ironically, it happened during a decade from the mid Seventies when there was a military coup in '80, right in the centre of that period.
And in a further irony the music collected on the compilation Uzelli Psychedelic Anadolu came, not out of Istanbul but a shop in Frankfurt which catered to migrant workers from Turkey.
The Uzelli brothers who owned the store also sold cassettes back then and gradually Uzelli became a label.
And a very big one too.
Uzelli claims a catalogue of more than 13000 albums which are currently being given digital reissue (624 at last count). But our interest centres on this psychedelic collection of 10 tracks – available in digital, vinyl and CD formats – in an evocative cover.
As we've noted previously when considering collections of “psychedelic” music from various parts of the globe, the definition can be very flexible and the music often a very long way from the heyday of Western psyche-rock in the late Sixties when the word came into the common language.
But as Nathan Ford of the Wellington-based Active Listener quite rightly observed when we spoke to him about his psychedelic compilations, he considered it to be “music that is exploratory in nature . . . it is done from a psychedelic mindset . . . it's an approach to making the music”.
So let's take that idea of an “approach” as the key part of our working definition for the Uzelli collection, and it fits.
By using electric versions of traditional instruments – just as young Indians did with electric sitar in the Seventies – alongside rock guitars, synths and thumping rhythm sections, there is an undeniable psychedelic feel at work. And not a little funk-rock either.
These were, of course, very radical sounds in their time but remain so today as the artists reconfigure traditional folk into the mindset of the era, or get highly inventive and somewhat off the radar.
When the wah-wah infused solo on the very groovy Asik Emrah's Bu Ellerden Gocup takes centre-stage you can't hear it as coming from anywhere other than “out there”.
And you'd guess Tom Verlaine of Television would want to have been front of stage taking notes.
The yearning of the singer Elvan Sevil on Yar Senin Icin speaks to us in a not dissimilar way to Grace Slick at her most personal, and across the same span of time.
According to what Elsewhere has read by way of publicity, “The tracks on Psychedelic Anadolu . . . . represent a unique combination of personalities and characters, from giants of the Turkish psychedelic scene like Erkin Koray and Ünol Büyükgönenç of Kardaşlar, to unknown and undiscovered Kerem Güney; the ephemeral band Zor Beyler with Ayzer Danga from Mavi Işıklar and Moğollar on drums; Ali Ayhan from Urfa with his unquestionably unique voice from the folk scene; and Akbaba, the extreme wedding duo”.
And frankly if Akbaba Ikilisi were providing music at a wedding you would definitely want the celebrations to last for days as their rolling rhythms and yearning vocals manage to effect the idea of great joy and sadness in about equal measure.
They'd give you something to think about in a glass half full/half empty kind of way . . . but all your guests would be partying. Their song Seker Oglan is terrific.
And check out Neşe Alkan with the Zafer Dilek Orchestra who possesses one of those voices which is archetypal but also unique simultaneously.
These voices seem of the Appalling Now but also beamed in from Great Days.
If the hip-hop samplers out there aren't all over this collection (starting with Ali Ayhan right at the end) then more fool them.
These days – aside from the political shockwaves every news cycle – surprises don't come often, but this collection will open ears. And a trove of music which is almost bottomless.
“The original album cassettes from Uzelli, however, have yet to be re-released,” says Kornelia Binicewicz -- the Polish DJ who researched and collated the compilation, and wrote the liner notes -- said in article in the Abu Dabi magazine The National.
“These albums are still undiscovered by contemporary audiences, while there are many hidden or bonus tracks and can still be found on sale at some old record stores, a musical window on a period of social upheaval in Turkey’s history.”
Explore their catalogue here and be sure to spend more than a few minutes on their cassette archive.
As Binicewicz says, “The design of Uzelli cassette tapes also set them apart. It was Armagan Konrat – a left-wing painter from Istanbul – who took Uzelli to another level.
"His unique style of graphic design is a great example of Turkish pop art from the late 1970s to the early 1980s.”
The past from a distant place has seldom felt and looked so interesting, and alive.
For more on psychedelic music from everywhere at Elsewhere start here.
For the complete article by complier Kornelia Binicewicz in The National go here.