Album review: BaBa ZuLa – XX [Glitterbeat Records, 27th January 2017]

What could possibly be better for a psychedelic cult band than a psychedelic cover. Colours and shapes are combined, forming a gateway to a unique, one-off experience. In the best tradition of its ritual-like performances (belly dancers, elaborate costumes, poetry, theatre, and live drawing), the cover for BaBa ZuLaXX takes the audience into a tantalising audio-visual double album. BaBa ZuLa’s style is best described as Istanbul psychedelia rock’n roll, a term that includes traditional Turkish instruments, electronica, reggae, and dub. One of its founders, Ertel, has emphasised this: “While a ney can represent the past Sufi-Islamic tradition, and a clarinet is the symbol of the music of the Turkish gypsies, an electric saz together with a wooden spoon can serve as a musical compass to Turkish musical roots going as far back as pre-Islamic, shamanic times, through Anatolia, reaching all the way up to present-day Istanbul.

Speaking of instruments, BaBa ZuLa’s selection of acoustic and electronic timbres is what makes such a unique and original sound. The symbolic meaning of each of them is of course a special characteristic. As well as those already mentioned, there are also a range of percussions, machines, toys, vocals, oscillators, theremin, electric ud, and others. The electric saz gives to BaBa ZuLa the opportunity to create a new sound and to experiment. Experimentation is truly a part of BaBa ZuLa’s spirit, and has become somrthing for which BaBa ZuLa is respected.

Since its foundation in 1996, BaBa ZuLa has changed members, even founders, and has had the collaboration of a variety of artists –not only musicians, but also dancers, poets, and visual artists. Osman Murat Ertel (lead vocals and electric saz) and Levent Akman (percussion, drums, machines, gong, spoons) have been present since the beginning. For XX, BaBa ZuLa has enjoyed the international collaboration of Alexander Hacke (bass guitar), Brenna Mac Crimmon (folk musician and vocalist), La Yegros (singer-songwriter), Mehmet Güreli (Turkish writer-painter-musician), Özkan Uğur (bass guitar), Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare (drums and bass guitar), and a good number of dub bands and musicians: Dirtmusic (dub band), Doki Dub Aino Band & Rekpo, Dr. Das Asian Dub Foundation (an English band that plays a mix of rapcore, dub, and ragga),and Mad Professor (dub mixer). These musicians have been listened to by BaBa ZuLa since they were younger; therefore, this international collaboration represents a delightful adventure and a stimulus.

BaBa ZuLa’s work can be witnessed through nearly ten releases which, it must be said, are among the most acclaimed in Turkey. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the double album XX (impossible not to see the title of the album covering the nipples of a semi-naked body) represents a prismatic and career-length compilation, including unreleased material, mixes, collaborations, live tracks, and any other imagined possibility for the first CD. This includes a variety of recording techniques –digital, analogue, tape, and mp3- according to Ertel. The second CD is a dub compilation of mixes.