Erkin Koray – Meçhul: Singles and Rarities (LP)

January 01, 1970

(Sublime Frequencies)


Erkin Koray is widely regarded as the father of Turkish
psychedelic rock, a polyglot stew of alternate Eastern-tinged tunings and
American- and British-style guitar bravado. Beginning in the late 1950s and
continuing to this day, Koray has blended traditional Anatolian folk with the
fuzz and swagger of amplified distortion. Like his home city of Istanbul, he stands at the conjunction of many different
traditions, in geographic terms spanning the music of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, in temporal ones, the folk melodies of
pre-history, the psych ferment of the 1960s, the progressive experiment of the
1970s, the new age-y ethno-explorations of the 1970s and 1980s. Using primarily
Western instruments – guitar, bass, drums – but also an amplified lute-like
instrument called an electric baglama, Koray juxtaposes the swirling,
psychedelic excesses of Nuggets-era rock and roll with the primal longing and
fundamental rootedness of Turkish folk. His music sounds at once like a lost
1960s band you never heard of, and a dazzled meander through a souk, foreign
and familiar elements shifting second by second, measure by measure.


Koray has always been something of a collectors’ obsession
and, since the late 1990s, his music has become available in the West through
reissues, compilations and bootlegs. Meçhul adds to the pile of readily accessible Koray material, gathering hard to find,
non-album materials from the 1970s. This was a period of tremendous
productivity for Koray, the same decade that saw release of his best-known
albums: the self-titled from 1973, Elektronik
from 1974.


These songs, many of them singles, mix tradition and rock in
varying proportions. “Krallar” (or “Kings”) from 1974, is pretty close to
straight-up prog overdrive, extended guitar solos broken by operatically
dramatic vocals. “Cümbür Cemaat” (“All Together with Happiness”) from a couple
of years later, however, is all caravan-swaying rhythms and deep-voiced chants,
a not-quite-guitar executing Eastern-tinged bends and twists – a long way from
King Crimson. “Hadi Hadi Ordan”, one of the disc’s best tracks, splits the
difference, picking out oddly shaped, Arabic riffs and intricate hand-rhythms
against the blare and fuzz of distorted bass. It’s hard, even, to find the seam
that separates the Western elements from the Eastern ones in this cut, so
cleverly have they been matched together. “Dusunus,” a touch more melodic,
could easily slip into a mod 1960s collection, resting comfortably between the
13th Floor Elevators and, say, the trippier elements of the Who. Yet
as the vocals slip sideways into unfamiliar harmonies, as the guitar solo winds
through unexpected alleyways, you see 1960s psych through a new lens, a
brighter, stranger one.

Listening to Meçhul is like reading
one of those alternate histories. What if, after absorbing blues and folk in
the 1960s, rock had turned towards Istanbul?  What if Turkish psych had been as big an
influence as reggae or disco in the 1970s? 
Instead of the Police trying to rock steady or Mick Jagger attempting a
dance beat, we might have had something very much like this. Shame really. By
all indicators, it would have been a much more interesting world.


Hadi Ordan”, “Meçhul”, “Cümbür Cemaat” JENNIFER KELLY

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