Born in 1953 in Kirklareli, a village in Thrace (the European territory of Turkey), the multi-instrumentalist and composer Burhan Oçal grew up in a musical family. From his father he learned a variety of percussion instruments, while his mother introduced him to religious vocal music. His main instruments are darbuka (a vase-shaped drum played with the fingers), kös (kettle drum), kudüm, and bendi; he also sings and plays saz, tanbur, and oud, in addition to composing. He moved to Zürich in 1977, but he soon moved back to the more exciting environment of Istanbul, where he enjoyed a deep network of connections with local musicians.
His percussive skills have been sought after by many players, in jazz and popular music (Sting invited him on-stage in Istanbul in 2000); but the most interesting parts of his production are his own projects: Jardin Ottoman (Harmonia Mundi, 1996) dedicated to Turkish classical music of the 17th century; the Oriental Ensemble which performs traditional Gypsy and Turkish folk music (Gypsy Rum, 1995). His series of Soundways focused on traditional repertoire and the wildly different duo with electronic musician Pete Namlook (Sultan Osman, 2000). The unprecedented alliance with harmolodic electric bass player Jamaaladeen Tacuma (a frequent visitor to Istanbul) gave birth to Groove Alla Turca (Doublemoon, 2000), an Oriental/funk/hip-hop band where Oçal's Oriental players meet a heavy jazz group, including ex-Charles Mingus trumpeter Jack Walrath and graced by the voice of Turkish/American rapper Sultana. The group created a sensation in jazz festivals and clubs all over the world. A spectacular virtuoso on the darbuka, from which he extracts an astonishing variety of sounds and rhythms, Oçal's wide vision includes stately Ottoman tunes and contemporary turntablists, which he's more than happy to put side by side in his projects, relishing the clash of atmospheres and the audience's puzzlement. ~ Francesco Martinelli