Omar Faruk Tekbilek
Alif: Love Supreme
Narada World Select
On Alif, Turkish multi-instrumentalist and singer Omar Faruk Tekbilek joins forces with percussionist, keyboardist, guitarist, and producer Steve Shehan to explore three aspects of love: romantic love, love of life, and divine love. The twelve songs draw on a variety of Middle Eastern folk traditions, including Tekbilek’s own Anatolian background, but also rom (gypsy), Bulgarian, Greek, Egyptian, Persian, and Israeli musics. Playing a key role throughout are Tekbilek’s ongoing spiritual studies in Sufism, which he views as inseparable from his music: for Tekbilek, “playing is like prayer.”
The result is a heady blend of exotic Middle Eastern instruments like oud, ney, and baglama with guitar, bass, synth, saxophones, and a host of drums and percussives from East and West. Centered by Tekbilek’s deeply felt (if not particularly wide-ranging) singing style, often augmented by female vocalists from around the Mediterranean, Alif maintains an upbeat, buoyant, inspirational tone throughout. For instance, forming the spiritual center of the album, the ten-minute “Alif” — a medley of Sufi compositions from Turkey — speaks of finding God in the snow, the smell of flowers, the heavenly bodies, all around and within us. Beginning in a dark mood, with slow, deep drums, and hypnotic repetition of the Arabic word “Alif” (the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and thus the beginning of the name for God), the track turns faster and brighter by its midpoint, adding in a host of Middle Eastern string, wind, and percussion instruments, only to end with peaceful flutes.
But spiritual songs are only a part of Alif; there are also a host of beautiful secular love songs as well. Among my favorites were “Lachin,” a Persian love song on which Tekbilek trades verses with Glykeria, whose breathy, gypsy-sounding female vocals give the song a perfect hint of sensuality, and “Dark Eyes,” a contemporary composition in traditional Bulgarian style sung by Galina Durmushliyska, whose low, warm voice matches perfectly with the smoky jazz rhythms of the piece, carried not just on bass, but also on oud! All in all, Alif will be a welcome treat for current or future fans of Turkish and related Middle Eastern musics.