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Redemption Song

Omar Faruk Tekbilek at SOhO on April 15

If only world peace was as easy to accomplish as the current fusion happening in the world music scene. We see these efforts toward syncretism as musicians lay down tracks in studios and perform live in venues intimate, or expansive. Such was the case this past Sunday night at SOhO, where Omar Faruk Tekbilek-Turkish virtuoso and fusion pioneer-brought his ensemble of musicians to play. Their three-hour long set blended traditional Middle Eastern chords and rhythms with contemporary instruments, sensibilities, and sounds. The result was a show of fully expressed Middle Eastern mystical roots with a danceable groove.

Throughout Europe and Turkey, Faruk Tekbilek and his ensemble fill large venues. He’s a veteran performer who has been touring throughout the U.S. since 1971, and performing worldwide since 1963. Even touring here in the States, the group is accustomed to playing lager theaters than SOhO. This current tour, though, featured a series of club dates. I caught them twice, the first time in Santa Monica on Friday, April 13, in the Bonsorte Studio. Although the studio-turned-club was packed wall-to-wall, the SOhO show felt more intimate. The room’s perfect sound allowed the textures of each musician’s playing to fill the room.

Tekbilek himself alternated between the several instruments he plays masterfully, including the oud (Middle Eastern lute), ney (bamboo flute), and zurna (double reed instrument). Along with his ensemble, Tekbilek played a selection from his most recent album, Tree of Patience, including poignant and lyrical renditions of songs like “Common Spirit,” “Elation,” and “Tree of Patience.”

One of the percussionists sharing the stage was Murat Tekbilek, Faruk’s son. According to Faruk, Murat has been taught the percussion rhythms and musical styles of Turkey and world music since before his birth. Omar insisted that he danced and even played in the womb. Other musicians on stage-masters in their own right-included Chris Rosser on electric keyboards, Anthony Mazzella, who brought a mix of flamenco and finger picking to his guitar flourishes, and Chris Wabich, whose dueling drumming with the other musicians created a sort of dance floor for the lyrics and melodies. Upright bassist Miles Jay, who studied Middle Eastern music at UCSB and played in the University’s celebrated ensemble, joined the group for the last few songs, adding a vibrating depth to the flourishes and drumbeats.

While Tekbilek’s music itself is not overtly political, the symbolism of uniting what may at first seem like disparate musical styles and instruments provides an example that we could all do well to follow. And in the meantime, we can dance.

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