A Rare Scheduled New York Appearance by Haunting Turkish Rock Balladeer Niyazi Koyuncu
Conventional wisdom is that anyone who could have gotten out of this city did a long time ago. The reality is that there are still a lot of entrenched indigenous and immigrant communities who are still here. That includes Turkish New Yorkers, who numbered approximately eighty thousand according to the 2010 census. Since that time, the primary hub for Turkish music here has been Drom in the East Village, which opened in 2007 and since then has probably staged more North American debuts than any other venue in town. That includes a lot of rare American appearances by Turkish rock acts.
Turkish rock has a lot of flavors, and as you can imagine some of them can be American Idol cheesy. But there’s a strong psychedelic streak in Turkish rock that goes back to a golden age of underground protest songs in the late 60s and 70s. There’s also a long tradition of brooding balladry that features haunting classically-tinged melodies, Middle Eastern flourishes and instrumentation, and allusive lyrics with frequent themes of being on the run from adversaries. One of those songwriters, Niyazi Koyuncu is playing Drom on Dec 16 at 11:30 PM; you can get in for $30.
Koyuncu’s music is not as ubiquitous on the web as it deserves to be, although his 2016 Liva album (which is not a concert recording) is streaming at Soundcloud. The first track, Uryan is a slowly swaying, moody minor-key anthem spiced with spare oud and piano over a lush bed of acoustic guitars. Lyrically, it’s paradigmatic, a metaphorically loaded tale of wartime abandonment.
Ağlama Bebeğim (Don’t Cry, Baby), a lullaby as escape anthem, has flute wafting over spare acoustic guitar. Yol (The Road) is a loping, flamenco-tinged lost-love ballad with strings. After that, there’s Kalbime Yağan Kar (Snow Falling in My Heart), a lingering art-rock duet with chanteuse Ceyl’an Ertem.
Koyuncu revisits a shadowy wartime tableau in Duman (Smoke), a surreal mashup of tricky Turkish dance rhythms and heavy rock, like a Near Eastern Jethro Tull. Verane has tasty bagpipes, Middle Eastern-style call-and-response and more tricky dance beats. The sweeping strings return alongside wistful accordion and piano in Gönlünün Kıyısı (The Heart’s Shore).
There’s a gorgeous kamancheh solo along with a spiky bed of guitars, baglama and orchestration in the pensive Sigara (Cigarette). Koyuncu finally picks up the pace with the rapidfire, scurrying rock tune Al Eline Fener (Carry the Torch)
Ayrılık (Far Away), a sweeping anthem with the guitars, orchestra and kamancheh going full force, is the album’s most exhilarating track. There’s also a surreal psychedelic tableau with slide guitars and bagpipes, and an imaginatively arranged Balkan reggae tune.
Obviously, a lot could change between today and the day of the show, in terms of venues being open without restrictions, but if the club is still open, this could be a great night for fans of haunting, lyrical sounds that don’t often make it to this country.