by Kabir Sehgal
Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol is a man on a mission: He’s bringing the world together through music. This might sound grand or over-the-top. But I ardently believe it. Rarely have I seen someone so committed to exploring his ethnic roots – in this case, Turkish – through the prism of large ensemble orchestration. His unquenchable curiosity is admirable, and for the rest of us, very entertaining. His album Turkish Hipster is his latest manifestation of his intercultural project.
But before I get to the music, let me officially go on record by saying Mehmet is a polymath. I’ve known him several years. I’ve performed with him. I’ve been to his house. I’ve been to his basement, which is like a musical laboratory where he invents and builds musical instruments (but first you have to descend a staircase adorned with photographs of jazz greats like Charlie Parker as well as Turkish musicians [insert a couple names]). I’ve drank his Turkish coffee (delightfully strong). The man composes. He arranges. He writes academic papers and books. He plays many instruments. He sings. He acts. I don’t know if he juggles, but something tells me that he could.
The Renaissance Man brings it all together with Turkish Hipster. But why exactly this title? The term “hipster” is often used to describe a subculture of folks who are known for their non-conformist attitudes and interests in alternative fashion, music, and art. Hipsters are often trendsetters who value authenticity and creativity. In terms of music, hipsters gravitate towards independent and unexplored genres. Or at least, they try to bring traditions together and, in some exceptional cases, create their own aesthetic. This is Mehmet. The barista of big band.
The opening groove of “A Capoiera Turca” signals that we’re in for an exciting odyssey. A Brazilian feel performed in part by Turkish instruments. Raydar Ellis’ spoken word rap in “The Boston Beat” takes this project to another level, leveraging poetry to spotlight the incredible band members. “Estarabim” takes us into the province of Turkish rock because…why not? The album culminates with Sanlıkol’s tour-de-force suite in which he interprets the foundational story of Abraham with music. This is a seminal and even watershed contribution not only to the music community but to everyone trying to build bridges between disparate communities and faiths.
This album is pan-borders, pan-genres, pan-instruments. It’s unified in that it comes from the singular mind of Mehmet. He is a man of the world, and he has seen the common threads across cultures and civilizations. He brings his learnings together on this epic production, and it’s a tremendous undertaking. But it’s well worth it. Bravo.