Meet the Musicians Keeping Turkish Psychedelic Music Alive

Courtesy of BaBa ZuLa
Courtesy of BaBa ZuLa
Photo of Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
28 February 2018

BaBa ZuLa is an Istanbul-based band like no other, heavily influenced by Turkey of the 60s and 70s but rife with their own style that thrives on improvisation, experimentation, and Eastern influences. Check out all the details about this remarkable band that is keeping the psychedelic alive.

The Beginning

BaBa ZuLa first came onto the scene in 1996 when founding members Levent Akman and Murat Ertel, who knew each other since middle school, began experimenting with music. Since that day they have garnered a cult following in their native Istanbul, with live performances that are mindblowing in their ritualistic style, often featuring costumes, poetry, and belly dancers, as well as plenty of their signature improvisation skills. At the heart of the bands is the psychedelic music of Turkey from the 60s and 70s, which is revived but also taken to another level.

Akman is an expert in percussions and machines that exude unique sounds that add a layer to every song, while Ertel is the master of the electric saz and other stringed instruments, that give the band’s music its auditory foundation. After the release of famous film director Fatih Akın’s documentary, Crossing the Bridge, which explored the music of Istanbul, BaBa ZuLa was introduced to the world and soon became a favorite live show in big cities all over Europe.

The Live Show

There’s nothing quite comparable to BaBa ZuLa’s live shows, which are different every time. A daze of oriental instruments such as the darbuka, electric saz, and spoons are carried to the present with electronic tools, for a psychedelic sound that is entirely unique to the band. Don’t be surprised to see Ertel being pushed around on wheels through the audience as he performs another hypnotizing saz solo, or poems being spoken and repeated by the audience in a state of surreal and instant companionship.

In their studio in Istanbul’s Oto Sanayi district, the band often comes together to improvise and create new songs, for a genre that has been called ‘Oriental Dub.’

BaBa ZuLa have released nine albums since 1997 and performed at important events such as the Venice Biennial in Italy, the Printemps de Bourges in France, and the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. However, seeing the band (which also includes the darbuka and percussion player Özgür Çakırlar, and Periklis Tsoukalas on electric ud and vocal) in smaller clubs is always preferred, such as one of their recent live performances for Boiler Room.

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