Mercan Dede's Su does for Turkish trance/ambient Sufi fare what Al Gromer Khan did with Mahogany Nights and Black Marble & Sweet Fire for sitar-infused Paisley music. What Mychael Danna did for Indian soundscapes with his stunning accompaniment of Mira Nair's opulent Kamasutra movie. What Natasha Atlas continues to do for Egyptian shaabi music and Cheb i Sabbah for classical Indian - redefine the genre and secure it a place on the international stage. While Sufi compatriot Omar Faruk Tekbilek remains wedded to the purely acoustical milieu, DJ-by-night Mercan Dede deliberately embraces electronica. He has performed with outfits like Transglobal Underground and contributed music for German choreographer Pina Bausch's Istanbul project. The Turkish Ministry of Culture commissioned him as musical director for the Guldestan project to represent Turkish culture and arts around the globe. Dede's appearance on the cover of Global Rhythm magazine, in September of 2004, indicated the first results by growing in American awareness. His latest album Su should securely anchor it.
Su | Water refers to the river Bosphorus visible from Dede's living room in Istanbul where the entire album was recorded. The title of each of the generously long twelve tracks then refers to specific watery qualities. "Ab-I Rû" means surface of the water and relates to its reflective qualities. "Ab-I Lâ'l" is red water, hinting at either blood or wine, the Sufi symbol for ecstatic union with the Divine. "Ab-I Zen" is calm water, "Ab-I Tarab" an internal ecstatic state embedded in calmness. "Ab-I Beka" is the endless water signifying infinity, "Ab-I Hayat" a magical remedy centered in love. "Ab-I Cesm" are tears and in particular refer to the city where the prophet Muhammad was killed. "Ab-I Nâr" is the red ocean during sunset time while "Ab-I Beste" describes a state of all-inclusive connectedness. "Ab-I Nâfi" is the water of remedy, "Ab-I Hazân" the transformative fall season and "Ab-I Verd" rose water, dedicated to famous Turkish singer Kani Karaca who passed away last away and thus dissolved in the cosmic water.
As these titles suggest, Su plays a profoundly mystical dimension. It combines modern settings with Sufi-inspired material. The exclusively down-tempo compositions, ambient infrasonics and out-of-phase spatial trickery all conspire to set up a hypnotic otherworldly space. It's like a contact high of passing a dense opium den. Dede's inspired choices of collaborators add even further to this trance element. There's sitarist Sheema Mukherjee from Transpersonal Underground and Turkish clarinetist Aykut Sütoğlu whose mastery recalls the Grecian phenomenon of Vassili Saleas. There are vocalists Dhafer Youssef, Özcan Deniz, Sabahat Akkiraz, Susheela Raman and urban rapper Ceza appearing on one track each. Hugh Marsh contributes electric violin and various Turkish Sufi instruments like the qanun, Ney and baglama make appearances throughout. The Australian didgeridoo does too as do all manner of fretless, acoustic and electric guitars and basses, even trumpet. Last but not least are the sinuous rhythms and percussive beat keepers of the Middle East.
Soundtracks like Ginger & Shankar's The Passion of the Christ and Lisa Gerrard's vocals in the death scenes of Gladiator have introduced large-scale Western audiences to the minor-key modalism of Middle-Eastern music, always linked to powerful imagery of existential dimensions beyond the body. Creating appropriate suggestions of emotional depth and otherness has clearly compelled many a Western composer to raid Oriental traditions and rely on the melismatic charms of their ethnic vocals. That's plainly the focus of Su as well. However, it benefits from a composer who lives not only the musical but also meditative cultures which are then deliberately joined to set up an aural space for shamanic travels. Su is an authentic multi-dimensional work of many shifting layers. They seduce the listener to repeat returns into its zone, discovering new meanings and connections with each visit. Su is the far-out aural equivalent of psychotropic mushrooms. Imbibe and fly to elsewhere.