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Recent reviews (with real Audio or MP3)
  • Lalezar Ensemble
  • Mesut Cemil
  • Omar Faruk Tekbilek
  • Music of Turkey:
        Erkose Ensemble
        Ashik music
        Íhsan Özgen
  • Musiko Polytropo (Greece)*
  • My Only Consolation
  • Djivan Gasparyan
  • Koranic Chant of Turkey

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  • These regional sections are merely a guide, are usually somewhat out-of-date, and are not the only content on the site. You will find much more by searching the site:

    Armenia, Turkey, Greece

    Mourmourika: Songs of the Greek Underworld
    Rounder Records (

    Following a half century of America's incessant War on Drugs, who could object to an archival collection of songs that celebrates disdain for the mores of straight society? Enter this world on the notes of a bouzouki solo ("Mourmouriko") recorded by Ioannis (Jack) Halikias in 1933. Mourmourika is a form of rembetica, a Greek musical style steeped in oral tradition that opens with instrumentals followed by frequently-repeated couplets that focus on historical or topical story lines. Rembetica has the feel of the eastern Mediterranean and grew to popularity following WWI when the mix of urban workers and refugees developed a thriving subculture around the "hash dens" of Greece. "Songs of the Greek Underworld" is the proper caption and is where you'll find tales of dope, cops, cards, dice, prostitutes, and well lit argiles (water pipes) burning throughout. Most of these songs were recorded during the 1930s, a couple during the '40s and one in the '50s and include lyrics and translations to help you through the 21 tracks. Some of my favorites:

    A delightful collection. - Richard Dorsett

    Women of Istanbul
    Traditional Crossroads (

    CD cover Nothing short of a wonderful yet all to brief listen to an historic era in Turkish music long past. One consequence of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's western reforms during the 1920's was the appearance of women into public life, including the world of music. Particularly popular were performances in the nightclubs, music halls and small theatres. As recorded music took hold during the 20's, literally dozens of women made recordings, singing in the popular styles of the day. Women of Istanbul retains a focus on the folk repertoire, light classical songs and light urban lieder from the advent of recording in Turkey up till the mid-40's. The liner notes point out that scant information is available about the lives of even the most famous of these singers. The notes also indicate the complicated and often ambiguous world in which these women often found themselves. Some, taking advantage of recording technology, used it rather than public performances to make their mark. Others struggled with conflicts involving the public's preferences for traditional Anatolian musical styles at a time when the government's policy was to assimilate western sounds. First rate liner notes, translated lyrics and brief bios of the artists make Women of Istanbul a delightful experience. A worthy topic for a book, in the meantime give a listen to Zehra Bilir, Fahriye, Safiye Ayla, Suzan Yakar Rutkay, Muzeyyen Senar, Mahmur Handan Hanim, and more, from these post-WW1 recordings by Turkey's leading women singers. Twenty-four tracks, seventy-six minutes of song. - Richard Dorsett (originally published in Victory Review, 9/98)

    Music From 5th Century Coptic Manuscripts
    Global Village Music (

    After a lengthy journey, 22 vellum leaves of ancient Coptic manuscript made their way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As Gulezyan family heirlooms, these 5th century texts accompanied brothers H. Aram and Hadji when they fled Turkish persecution of Armenians at the turn of the century. Through time and diligent effort, the Coptic notation on the manuscripts was translated to modern musical notation. This is unfamiliar music. As with much religious music, these compositions of Ptolemy's "Harmony of the Spheres" were meant to be experienced as incantation designed for a particular effect. Tough to make a recommendation. You get a truly rare performance of early Coptic Church music sandwiched between a lecture about the recordings. Absolutely unique. Wonderful. And every bit a challenge. - Richard Dorsett

    George Mgrdichian
    The Oud
    Global Village Music (

    With the spread of Islam, use of the Arabic 'ud expanded through and beyond the Middle East. Its sound evokes the moods of the region, from Armenia across to the Sudan and on to Morocco. On The Oud, George Mgrdichian culls a variety of instrumentals based mostly on the Anatolian maqam (modes). A number of cuts (e.g., "Nehavend Longa," "Longa," and "Haspico") are delightful and showcase both Mgrdichian's skills and the instrument itself. In addition, the tunes demonstrate the power of the oud even when supported only by the sparse percussion of Roger Mgrdichian on dumbeg (hourglass shape drum). Although the 13 tracks on this CD are compelling, they comprise only a rather stingy 34 minutes of music. Double the time and this would be a no-hesitation "must buy." - Richard Dorsett

    Various Artists
    Armenians on 8th Avenue
    Traditional Crossroads/Rounder

    In New York City an immigrant can always find a piece of home, isolated from the trials of both his former country and his new habitat. It was on 8th Avenue in the middle of the century that the Armenian refugees found respite in the coffee houses (often Greek) that lined the street. The musicians among them brought their mixed culture from the Turkish empire they and their parents fled. Armenians On 8th Avenue captures a little of that music as a reminder that while political and religious societies often cannot or will not coexist, culture is able to embrace individuals. Here are songs that reflect Turkish, Armenian, Greek, Jewish and occasionally American musical styles, instruments and language; passionate, fun, made for reminiscing and dancing. Cabaret singers like "Sugar Mary" Vartanian showed how wide a net they could cast. She came from Istanbul, played mandolin in France and then sang in the nightclubs of New York and the Armenian resorts of The Catskills. (Did you know there was a "Yogurt Belt" just up the road from The Borscht Belt?) Throughout this record are artists with similar stories and wonderful songs to tell them with. Next time you're having a cup of coffee on 8th Avenue, listen closely to the music in the background. The bagel may be Jewish, the coffee Turk, the discussion in Armenian, but the music may be a surprising mix of them all. - CF

    The Necdet Yasar Ensemble
    Music Of Turkey
    Music Of The World

    While there has been a wealth of music from the former Ottoman Empire made available in the last few years, few have caught my attention so thoroughly as this one. This recording concentrates on the Turkish makam, a complex musical form developed over many centuries. The simplicity of the instrumentation, the structural demands of the music itself and the subtlety of the improvisations all draw you deep into this music. Necdet is a powerful musician. His instrument, the tanbur, is a long necked lute with a two octave range and four sets of double strings. It is to the credit of both player and the music itself that such a simple instrument can create such a depth of emotional and musical expression. The ensemble around him is kanun (zither), kemence (fiddle), oud and bendir (frame drum), each player a master of his craft. Joining the ensemble on one track is vocalist Nurettin Celik, leading the group in an epic 42 minutes, stringing together the works of a number of composers from many periods in a swirling wash of bold colors and delicate shadings. All of this was recorded live at a concert in Maryland, making their musical feats all the more impressive and the presentation all the more vital. - CF

    Gevorg Dabagian
    The Music of Armenia Volume 3: The Duduk
    Celestial Harmonies

    The music of the duduk of Armenia has become familiar to many through the many recordings of Djivan Gasparyan in the last decade. Here's a chance to hear another player of equal emotional range on an instrument made for individual expression. The duduk is a small double-reed instrument. It has a mix of warm tone and raspy over-tone that makes it instantly recognizable and unique. In Armenia, this instrument has the respect that the violin has in more western classical music, even though its repertoire comes from a more "folk" oriented base. While it can be heard in many different kinds of ensembles, from duduk chamber groups to folk music with many different instrument and vocalists, this set features it as a solo, accompanied only by a droning second duduk and occasionally a drum. It is in this setting, and with this performer, that one can truly appreciate the beauty and evocative quality of the instrument. It has an emotional quality normally associated with singers, and it seems to evoke in the listener the same feelings of joy, sorrow and loss that a good folk singer can. This is the third set in Celestial Harmonies' "Music of Armenia" series produced by David Parsons. It includes excellent liner notes on the history of the instrument and the composers by WNYC's John Schaefer. It also completely lacks the name of the performer anywhere on the cover, including his name only in the fine print credits and once at the end of Schaefer's notes, so look for it under "M" for music, or "V" for various artists, which is my guess as to where most stores and libraries will file it.

    Talip Ozkan
    The Dark Fire

    Talip Ozkan is a master of the music of Turkey, the music of the saz, a brilliant instrumentalist and singer. Based on a complex system of tones, scales and sounds, the "makam" is a guide book, a map for the improvisation of Turkish music. Talip Ozkan uses these ancient systems to create music as contemporary as any guitar style, and more complex than most. These "taqsims," or improvisations, are the raga of the middle east, arcane structures that are so complex only a few artists are capable of their execution. The Dark Fire expands on Ozkan's saz and vocals with an occasional second saz player and some small percussion touches, making this a slightly more pop sound, a bit more theatrical and less contemplative, but not to the music's detriment. This record is something that will cut right through the most resistant and jaded ears, drawing the listener into a whirlwind of throbbing bass notes and droning metal strings, capped by fervent vocals. The power that is exuded by this instrument is amazing, and Ozkan's fury on "Koroglu" and the passion of "Komur Gozlem" exemplify it. There is beauty, drama and desperation in these songs from Turkey, a message from one of the few Islamic cultures to embrace music and dance as a means to ecstasy and identity... I also highly recommend you get a copy of Ozkan's Mysteries Of Turkey (Music Of The World) as well. This album is a bit more programmed, giving you a feel for the path a live performance would take, and offers an interesting counterpoint to Dark Fire. - CF

    The Erkose Ensemble
    Nesrin Sipahi And The Kudsi Erguner Ensemble
    both: CMP Records

    Tzingane is most familiar as the Gypsy music of Eastern Europe, but the Turkish version offered here is actually a glimpse at what could be seen as an earlier, more rootsy style. The Gypsies migrated out of India, and through the Ottoman empire on their way to Europe. The music they brought with them and developed along the road to Hungary has influenced the folk and popular music of almost every culture in Europe, right out to the English coast. The Erkose Ensemble plays this music with an exuberance that is hard to relay on paper. The sweeping, lush stokes on the kanun (zither), the searing slides of the violin and the hot clarinet notes in these tracks is as free as any jazz ensemble, and as full of virtuosity as any classical chamber group. The seemingly endless lines of melody, the incessant percussion and the improvisational chances taken make this essential listening.
    While cooler than the tzingane sound, the love songs of Turkey portrayed on Sharki are no less exciting. Kudsi Erguner's last album, Sufi Music, left me speechless, and I'll fare no better with these songs, sung by Nesrin Sipahi. Knowing no Arabic or Persian, there is still no missing the subject matter of these songs from the inspired delivery of the singer. The band of flutes, drums and strings offers a subtle yet insistent backing, sometimes refined, at other times just short of erotic. That may, in fact, be the perfect word, for these songs are about eros, not sex. They are the antithesis of modern Euro-American pop music; more formal (classical?) in structure, they reach for a passionate response born of desire rather than lust, of yearning rather than acquisition. - CF


    Kudsi Erguner Ensemble
    The Works Of Kemani Tatyos Efendi Kudsi Erguner Ensemble And Melehat Gülses
    Vocal Masterpieces Of Kemani Tatyos Efendi
    Traditional Crossroads ([email protected])

    Kemani Tatyos was a composer at the end of the last Ottoman Empire, at the end of the last century. This was a period of both flourishing pride in culture and rapid change, with western influences sweeping though all of the region. This was an age when the classical music of the region was escaping the confines of the court of the sultans, finding new audiences and patrons, and daring to incorporate new ideas and new life into the tradition. Tatyos was at the forefront of these changes, and while he died a pauper, his music has lived on, gaining the respect and recognition of generations of musicians who followed him.

    The Kudsi Erguner Ensemble is an excellent choice to record the music this man made in the pre-recording age. They, like the composer they pay homage to, are no strangers to excitement and experimentation, and Erguner's choice of material and his energy in interpreting them is sparkling. These recordings also rank as some of the best made by this ensemble. A choice was made to record them flat, without effects or enhancements, and the immediacy of this sound adds to the power of the music. - CF

    Richard Hagopian
    Armenian Music Through The Ages
    Smithsonian Folkways

    Hagopian's trio plays oud, violin, kanun (zither) and dumbek, exploring the classics as they filtered into the Armenian communities of America and keeping them alive. Full of Turkish, Arabic, Russian and other eastern European/western Asian references, this music is chronicle of the Armenian people's constant struggle to survive occupation, genocide and dispersion. Hagopian is a scholar, and the notes in the CD booklet will tell you plenty about the history of the music. The history of the people is in the music, and tracks like the taksim "Siroon Aghcheek" tell the whole story in a sublime love song. So much of the world's music is scattered through America, and this album is a reminder of both the power of the melting pot and the irresistible force music offers to resist assimilation.

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