"Trakya All Stars" - Burhan Ocal

Burhan Ocal



Master percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Burhan Öçal has spent twenty five years establishing his name around the world, collaborating with top musicians of various styles including Joe Zawinul, George Grunz, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Pete Namlook, Sting, the Kronos Quartet and the philharmonic orchestras of Zurich and Cologne.

Wishing to pay tribute to the musical heritage of his birthplace Kýrklareli, Burhan comes back home for the “most personal” project of his life. To transform local traditional musical styles into modern ones with the help of digital technologies and to present them to the world through superb performances by master musicians.

Kýrklareli is a major town in Trakya (Thrace) and is located on the western border of Turkey with Bulgaria. Burhan says that he developed his sense of rhythm as well as melody listening to the music of the Balkans on his transistor radio, which could reach as far as Greece, Macedonia and Romania. Kýrklareli is home to a large Gypsy musical community, most of whose members are either zurna (a reed instrument somehat resembling an oboe) or davul (local drum) players. Everywhere else in Turkey, a team of one davul&zurna is enough to fire up any celebration, while in Kýrklareli, the combination requires a minimum of two. It is this raw and extremely ethnic sound of the double davul&zurna that called Burhan back to his roots.

Burhan aimed to include all his early influences in this project. The double davul&zurna combination of Kýrklareli. was complemented by the “ince saz” of Trakya consisting of clarinet, violin, cumbush, kanun and darbuka. The Balkans came in with the trumpet and accordion, which are actually hard-to-find instruments in Turkish music.

For the last 3 years, Burhan Öçal ,along with his childhood friend and master zurna musician Saraylý Ahmet, wandered through most of the musician cafes in Trakya and showed up at many local celebrations. He was searching for unknown musicians who were true masters of their instruments. In the end, he was able to form a band that he could confidently name The Trakya All Stars. The only musician from outside Trakya is the trumpet player, because the trumpet is a rare instrument among the Gypsy musicians in Turkey. All of the musicians involved in this project share a common heritage. Except for Burhan, all are of Gypsy origin and all their ancestors including Burhan’s migrated from Thessaloniki (Salonika) region in northern Greece at the beginning of the 1900’s.

Burhan was very selective about the choice of repertoire. He wished to record folk tunes that are not well-known, so he listened to a lot of songs in the process. Eight of the ten songs in this album are from the Thessaloniki region and are anonymous. The ancient “Güreþ Havasý” (The Wrestling Theme) is the accompanying music to the ancient and still practised local sport of oil-wrestling. An album about Trakya could not be complete without the “Güreþ Havasý” which is recorded using four sets of davul&zurna. The zurna master Ýbrahim Kayýkçý, himself a part of living history, is a special guest on this track.

Another important guest is Amit Chatterjee, of Indian origin, who is Burhan’s friend from Joe Zawinul’s band. Amit contributes with his spellbinding guitar playing in “Davullarým Çalar Çaydan Aþaðý” (My Drums are Playing Down the Stream) and with his singing in “Gara Guna” .

A key aspect of the project is the Tunisian born French musician, sound engineer and producer Smadj, highly respected for his knowledge of oriental music and for his digital innovations. Smadj’s contribution to this album is essential. His programmed beats and arrangements, as well as his recording, mixing and production skills have helped to define the timeless character of this album which manages to take deep tradition to a contemporary level.

Öçal summarizes his responsibility: “The essential core of these traditions has been preserved over the centuries like precious stones. Now we have to take advantage of the limitless possibilities of digital technology to present their true spirit to today’s listeners so that they can continue for generations ahead.”