Turkey is a land rich in musical traditions - travel across this huge nation and you'll hear the sounds of Turkish classical, folk, pop, rock, arabesk (an Arab inspired sound), fasil (a Gypsy-inspired form of music that is popular with belly dancers), Sufi religious music and Kurdish music. Odd then that with such a wealth of music, few Turkish musicians have achieved a strong international profile. Omar Faruk Tekbilek is changing this.
Faruk, as he is familiarly called, was born in the southern Turkish city of Adana. Adana is situated on what was once the boundary between the Byzantine and Islamic worlds. 'Because it was a border town,' Faruk recalls, 'my city was rich with cultural opportunities, so I was very lucky.'
A musical prodigy as a child, he was performing in nightclubs from the age of twelve. Faruk is a multi-instrumental virtuoso: the ney (bamboo flute), the zurna (double-reed oboe like instrument), the baglama (long-necked flute) and percussion are his favourites.
Upon turning 16 in 1967, Faruk shifted to Istanbul where he and his brother spent the following decade as session musicians. All the time Faruk was assimilating a variety of Turkish and Arabic music forms. Faruk was comfortable playing Turkish contemporary music, Sufi music and the most traditional of Turkish folk musics. Yet he had an appetite for seeking out not just new musical forms but new lands and in 1976 he settled in the USA. Since then he has collaborated with musicians of international repute, including Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ofra Haza, Bill Laswell, Don Cherry, Trilok Gurtu and Ginger Baker.
Since 1988, Faruk has built a career as a recording artist, completing nine solo albums while continuing to collaborate with musicians from across the world. While his European reputation has largely rested upon the inclusion of Faruk's music on the Buddha Bar and Arabesque compilations, he now hopes to spend more time playing to the European public.
'I am interested in searching for the similarities in cultures, not differences,' says Faruk. 'Music is the universal bond, our common language. I represent no nationality when I play. Through music and dance we can reach each other, face to face. We have no differences.'
Garth Cartwright 2002
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