Music from Thrace combines styles from Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Rom repertoire. That means wailing nasal oboes called zurnas; Middle-Eastern clarinet; blatty trumpets; the kanun zither; the Armenian banjo cümbüş, saz lute and kemanche; accordion; vocals; and plenty of complex percussion and the occasional odd-metered limping beat.
What it usually doesn't mean is sneaky phat beats, tasteful concessions to HipHop modernity - unless you were to give the Tracian AllStars on the present release a spin. This is one of those crossover efforts firmly rooted in tradition to account for authenticity, with 21st century influences by way of Smadj's electronic programming introduced sparingly and to enhance rather than reinvent. Listeners in Germany on April 25/26, 2004 will have an opportunity to hear this formation around master percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Burhan Öçal live.
Literally visiting all of the music cafes of Thrace for his AllStars, Burhan has assembled an orchestra of master musicians in the traditional styles, all of them of Gipsy origin whose ancestors, like Burhan, had migrated from the Thessaloniki region in Northern Greece to Turkey in the early 1900s. To anchor tradition in modernity, he then turned to Tunisian-born electronica artist Smadj who has a thorough understanding and appreciation for classic Middle-Eastern music. The result? The Trakya AllStars, conceptually related to Nedim Nalbantoglu's BalkanMessengers but walking a path of less frenzy and hi-speed gymnastics.
It's fair to say that the quarter-tone scales and certain timbres of the Middle-East are an acquired taste for Westerners, hence Kirklareli will be distinctly left-field fare for all but the most adventurous of global caravan trippers. Besides enjoying this type of music, I also consider myself somewhat of an amateur side-line musicologist; someone interested in fusion efforts not necessarily because they're all successful or accessible, but to observe emerging trends, creative experiments and watch a new musical syntax arise whilst in the actual process of unfolding. Certain elements will eventually be discarded, cross-bred, outgrown or altered. Nonetheless, they all constitute vital steps in this evolution. And there is no musical field currently more exciting than the clash of traditions with not just modernity but also each other in the WorldBeat arena.
Kirklareli is a prime example of this trend, initially probably as alien as Free Jazz to those coming from the safe'n'comfy mainstream but making certain converts and enthusiasts during such shocking encounters regardless. To see what the rest of the world outside our Top 40 charts is up to, you should occasionally take a walk on the wild side just to broaden your horizons. And Kirklareli would most certainly do the job splendidly.