Magical Nights with Bunyamin
Last year Bunyamin and I shared his studio. This year we’ve upgraded and I have my “Ofis” right above his. Now that I have my own I cannot imagine how we shared a space last year! Both of our Ofis’s are beautiful – his more man-ly with lots of religious musilm calligraphy and art, and mine more warm and girly with star and moon pillows and red butterfly curtains.
We both usually arrive sometime in the afternoon. The first activity is always cleaning – sweeping up crumbs from the day before, washing dishes, cleaning the rugs, mopping the floors. Then we light the candles, burn incense, get the first round of chai going and we are ready to receive guests. Bunyamin makes the traditional Turkish black tea while I experiment more with herbal blends that I pick up at the spice market.
We have visitors coming in and out all day to both of our offices. It is rare that somebody shows up without baring some kind of gift. Many musicians come by and there are always spontaneous jams breaking out.
Bunyamin has two boys that are at his office every day. I can only describe them as “disciples”. They worship him and love darbuka. They hang out all day helping Bunyamin and serving tea to his guests. He often sends his boys up to my office to borrow extra tea glasses or sugar or if they want to borrow a certain drum of mine.
Although I often have male visitors my Ofis ends up feeling like the women’s quarters or “Harerm”. Often all the men are downstairs with Bunyamin discussing Koran and the women are upstairs with me doing helping decorate my clay drums with henna.
But when I hear Bunyamin start to play that is my cue to go downstairs.
“Magic” is the only word I can think of to describe what happens every night at Bunyamin’s studio.
In previous years we worked on compositions. We have three beautiful duets that we created together. This year, however, I can’t get him to work on composition. He only wants to jam. For hours an hours. Just jam. This year we are mostly playing in 10. Last year was 9 and the previous year was 7. But although we are jamming in 10 every night and coming up with very cool patterns he refuses to make a composition.
This is my fourth year practicing with him and I’m really starting to be able to match him. We do these crazy intricate rolls and then magically land exactly together on the dum. People who see us practicing together just start laughing because they can’t believe what they’re seeing. Many nights Bunyamin and I practice and his boys hold a simple rhythm for us. Also our friend Arap Ibo, one of the greatest Turkish drummers comes by and we all play together.
The three of us could do such an amazing show together if we just worked out some compositions! Anyway we play together for hours every day! But I cannot push them to do composition. I tried and it didn’t work.
Even if we don’t do a composition, we could have someone video our jam sessions. But no. Bunyamin used to be very easy going about having people video him. Not anymore. Nobody can video us when we are practicing and when I tell him we should make a new video of us playing together he says “no, we’re not ready”.
This makes me frustrated. I feel that we have an amazing gift, and that gift is meant to be shared with the public – it’s not just for us to enjoy alone in our Ofis! How we could touch people with this music! But Bunyamin is very stubborn and it is impossible to convince him otherwise. So I simply appreciate the fact that I get to practice with the world’s greatest darbuka player for hours every night. I will try to absorb as much as I can into my own playing and put it into another project of my own.
Bunyamin is always coming up with new stuff. Last night he showed me a new roll and he said “you must play this one as if you’re drunk”. This is a man who never drinks alcohol. The hardest thing for me is when he leaves the “rhythm” and plays totally amorphous “nature sounds” over the rhythm. That takes crazy control. He plays a phrase and I copy, again and again.
Practicing with him, its as if he’s taking me on these thrilling journeys, taking me places I’ve never gone before, surprising me, teasing me, pushing me to my technical limits and eventually gracefully landing me back home on the 1.
I wish every person could feel what it’s like to have these beautiful rolls flowing effortlessly through you. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to flying.
Turkish Customs – The Catch to Living in Turkey
The company in the states who distributes my books was going through a change and needed to send back all of my books that were in storage. They offered to ship them to me in Istanbul, so I thought “oh – what a great opportunity to get a bunch of my books over here for free!
People always told me “Turkish Customs is a Nightmare”, but I thought to myself that for me it would be different – Things always go smoothly for me! I will charm the customs officials into giving me my books with no charge and no hassle.
The whole thing got off to a bad start because the person who shipped the packages didn’t give any contact info for me and didn’t notify me that he had shipped the books. So they were sitting there for 2 weeks before I even knew they were there. And there are storage fees every day they sit there.
As soon as I realized they were there I submitted all the paperwork but then it was Bayram, a national holiday in which everything is closed for a whole week, so I had to wait until after Bayram for the answer (another week of storage fees).
After Bayram I called back and they said “Turkish customs rejected your claim so you need a broker to clear the packages”.
I found a broker, and gave him the info. He talked to Turkish customs, called me back and said, “I’m sorry – this is very complicated – I can’t help you.” This is a customs broker. His whole job in life is to clear packages from Turkish customs and he can’t help me? I realized then that I was doomed.
I found another broker who looked into the situation and said “they are asking too much money and it’s too complicated. Why don’t I just give you one copy of each book and you can make photocopies here?”
In the meantime, the whole time they were making it completely impossible to clear the books, they kept sending me emails: “Hurry up and clear your packages because you are getting charged more for every day of storage!”
After screaming at Turkish Customs on the phone every day for 4 weeks, writing letters of complaint, paying ridiculous prices to notaries, running around sending faxes, ect I ended up having to pay such a fee that I won’t even mention how much. It was such a fee that I even considered telling them “just throw them away” but it’s about 400 books, cds and dvds so I decided it’s better to pay and have the books.
So now I have 400 books stacked up in my hall.
Yesterday I decided I’ll turn this disaster into something positive, so made a promotional campaign. I wrote a flier in Turkish with a nice wholesale offer for at least 6 books, put on Bunyamin’s dress suit jacket and went all up and down the music street trying to sell my books to the music shop owners. Nobody bought any yesterday but at least I had fun spending the day on the music street (you wouldn’t believe how many chai’s I ended up drinking). Insallah somebody will buy some of these books eventually!
Tarlibasi Market Adventure
Tarlabasi Ave is a busy street parallel to the Istiklal pedestrian walkway and on the other side of that street is the neighborhood called “Tarlabasi”. It’s a whole other world from the beautiful clean orderly Istiklal area – full of old buildings falling apart, huge piles of rubble and garbage and suspicious looking gangs of men lurking around. Many people say it’s dangerous.
But on Sundays there is a market in Tarlabashi that I LOVE. I go there religiously every Sunday and buy food for the whole week. The produce is so good and it’s so cheap I feel like I’m getting food for free and it’s just a matter of how much can I carry back with me. I usually get these tiny delicious cucumbers, the best tomatoes in the world, fresh mint, olives, olive oil (homemade, straight from the olive seller), kale, avocados and whatever else I can carry. The sellers sing songs about how fresh their produce is as you pass to charm you into buying from them. Talrabasi market is a delightful, colorful, fun shopping experience.
Last week I went there not knowing that on that particular day there were Kurdish riots again the police right in Tarlabasi!.
Turning into Tarlabasi I should have know something was up when I saw hundreds of policemen in gas masks running around. But I was so intent on getting my veggis I ignored them.
I really should have know something was up when my eyes and throat started stinging and I saw everyone around me walking around with their shirt over their face. “What's happening?” I asked my friend –“My eyes are stinging!”. “Oh it’s probably tear gas. It will pass” he said.
But I continued on! Eventually the stinging wore off and there we were in the market! I went around to my favorite sellers, collecting my precious vegetables. All of a sudden somebody pushes me and I see it’s a young man running as fast as he can and another guy is chasing him. He caught the man right in front of me and they started having a fist fight right in the middle of the market, something like from a movie with the veggi stands being knocked over and fruit and vegetables flying everywhere.
By that time I had finished my shopping list so we decided to head back to the Ofis. We almost made back to Tarlabashi blv when some huge bricks fell off of a building and landed right in front of us. As if the neighborhood was saying to us “so you think you made it safely back to Istiklal? Take this! Ha ha ha!”
Its funny because whenever my mother tries to convince me to get health insurance she says, “what if you’re walking down the street and a brick falls on your head?”. I would always scoff at that idea, “yea right, what are the chances of that?” But now I know, if I ever move to Tarlabashi I must get health insurance.
Am I going back to the Tarlabasi market next week? Hell yea!
I had a wonderful ten day tour in Italy! I was in Turino and Salerno.
Turino is so beautiful! It’s like Paris without the snobbiness! Somebody had money in that city at some point. Huge palaces and statues and squares and churches all over the place! Then I went down south to Salerno and got to say hi to the Mediterranean Sea.
I had four beautiful concerts in Italy. I didn’t go with my own band, but I was a guest with some other great bands and one of my students Max played some of my compositions with me. Italy is so fun and decadent. I ate amazing food, drank wine with almost every meal, hand the shortest espresso in the world (the whole serving was like a ½ sip but oh so strong) and saw beautiful sights.
I also had some great workshops! I’m the first person to come to Italy and teach the Turkish style of drumming so there was a great excitement and many drummers came from far to take my workshops!
First Retreat at the Ofis!
Since I have my own space now in Istanbul I decided to have the October retreat in my very own Ofis!
It was so much fun! I had a wonderful group of people, most of them from Russia. They were very serious and focused! They totally ignored the hours of classes and just stayed in the Ofis almost 24 hours a day!
It was such a success I decided to have small retreats (max 10 people) every couple months in the Ofis! Also, the group from Russia will bring me to Moscow and Lenningrad in June!
“When you are on your path following your personal legend the universe conspires to help you.”
(from The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo)
This has been the theme of my move to Istanbul. As if there are some angels making sure my transition is smooth and full of joy and magic.
Here are some examples:
My Dream Apartment
Last year when I stayed in Istanbul for 4 months I found a gorgeous “Bohemian Flat with Murals” on the Airbnb website in the best possible location. It was so beautiful and comfortable!
But because the flat was set up for short term tourist rentals it was quite expensive so it didn’t even occur to me that I could live here full time. i was planning to find another cheaper long term apartment.
A few weeks before I moved, the lady who was subletting to me wrote and said that she’s moving to Italy and doesn’t want to have this apartment anymore so would I like to rent it directly from the landlord for a 4th the price!
So I’m back in my flat and because it’s now “mine” I was able to make it into my dream apartment! it was so fun going to the spice market and getting pillows and cushions made and I put up some shelves and got myself a washing machine (the first time in my life I have my own washing machine).
I designed a sort of Sufi bench with cushions that can convert to a long banquet table for dinner parties!
I also have a lovely private terrace out back with a little table so I can also hang out there! I might even start a little garden there!
It is so much fun coming home to this lovely haven!
I’ve never before had a space that is especially for practicing. I’ve always practiced in my house and always had conflicts with the neighbors. Many of the musicians I know including myself get much more in the mood to practice at night! I used to go out to the parks to practice and night but then you have to deal with all the drunks (why do drunk people love drumming so much?)
Last year I shared Bunyamin’s practice studio with him. That was great, but the problem is that I like to practice all day. Bunyamin likes to chat with his friends and drink chai all day and practice a little. I also didn’t feel so comfortable inviting my own people over to practice.
The room upstairs from Bunyamin used to be a depot (storage room) and recently we saw that they were emptying it out and put a sign “offis for rent”. I jumped on the opportunity and rented it for myself!
I put in a nice new floor because the floor was kindof gross and went to the spice market and found a beautiful carpet, and fancy shmancy tea maker (called “Semaver”), practice cushions, a blackboard.
I also painted a mural of my hand with the henna design I always do on myself, so I feel I have put my own hand print on the space!
The only thing missing was drums but as soon as my darbuka player friends heard about my space they all brought over there drums that are for sale so now my place is full of amazing drums!
There is a celebrity among the drums that have made it to my ofis - a clay dahola by the late Hasan Amegid, the best drum maker in the world! A royal Queen, the little sister of Bunyamin's prize king Dahola! I'll put a new skin on her tomorrow and see how she sounds!
My big plan is to make this space a center for darbuka with classes, workshops and master drummers practicing there. Drummers coming to Istanbul to study darbuka will make this their first stop! I’ll also use it for my own practicing and rehearsing.
The first night I had the place, the incredible Suat Borozan came and practiced there with me for 5 hours straight. What an amazing way to bless the space. Many of the great drummers don’t have a comfortable space to practicing so I have a feeling they’ll all be coming over to my place to practice!
I decided to call the palce “Darbuka Ofis” because it’s the same in English and Turkish and its kindof funny (you think of an office as something corporate with computers).
My Ofis is such a gift! Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!
My First Class!!!
Now that I have this ofis the next step is to get classes going. I picked a date and started advertising on facebook and making posters and putting them up all over the music area.
The day of my first class I wasn’t even sure if anybody would show up and I decided not to be bummed if that happened because these things take time.
But low and behold people came! The beginner class was two Turkish guys and the Intermediate class was and American, and Israeli, a French guy and a few Turkish guys. I was so happy! I hope it will grow little by little and turn into a big class. I probably can have 12 - 15 people there at a time!
The students were so inspired by the class that some of them stayed after till 1:30 in the morning practicing the patterns!
My New Ritim Grup
I really want to have a smoking hot Turkish Ritim Grup that will tour all around Turkey and Europe.
For the first couple weeks I was having a hard time finding people. The famous guys are to busy (and anyway I want people that I can boss around so no famous people) and I found the young guys to be quite flaky, saying they’ll come and not showing up.
The other night after yet another drummer blew me off I was practicing alone in my Ofis wishing for some of my regular students back in the states to practice with and feeling lonely and missing someone to work on stuff with. I remembered two years ago there were these two young guys that I jammed with once and it was sooooo fun and playful! I didn’t even remember their names or what they looked like, but I remembered how much I enjoyed playing with them and was wishing I could find them.
All of a sudden theres a knock on the door and its these two young Turkish guys who looked vaguely familiar! They were like “Hi, so sorry to bother you but we saw on facebook that you opened a Darbuka Ofis and we just wanted to stop by”.
Anyway we started jamming and guess what I realized???? It was those same two guys from two years ago!
They are sooooooo fun to play with and they have alot of free time! And such sweet guys! I think these are my guys!!!!! Yesterday I started trying to teach them one of my old compositions but then I realized I think it will be easier and more fun to come up with new material together. They said they will come any day that I’m free! I’m sooooo excited!!!!!
Also my awesome saz player Ohran Bilge is super excited about our duet project (kemenche and saz)! His Ofis is right downstairs across from Bunyamin! We’ve been rehearsing together a few times a week and will book some shows for early winter.
I’m Upstairs from the Best Darbuka Player in the World!
The best moments are still when I get a text message “Gel Antraman” (come practice) from Bunyamin or when I hear that he’s practicing so I take my drum and go downstairs. Still, after 4 years of practicing with him, I cannot believe how incredible he is and he leaves me in awe night after night.
Smoking Hot Turkish Band!
I went to Araf last week and there was a new band playing. I don’t even know what they’re called. But they were smoking hot, with a whole horn section playing in unison, tapan, drum set, and incredible darbuka player, plus guitar, bass and vocals. I LOVED every song in their repertoire and they’re arrangements were so tight and exciting!
I thought to myself “I would love to play in a band like this!”
I came back last night and thought maybe I could talk to the band leader after the show and tell him I could sub for the darbuka player if he ever needed.
I get to the show during the break and there’s a darbuka but no darbuka player. I asked the tapan player where’s the darbuka player and he said “i’m switching off tonight between tapan and darbuka. Why, do you want to play?” (he asked as a joke).
The set began and he was playing tapan. The darbuka was just sitting there. I sat there for two songs and then said to myself, “the universe is giving me an opportunity - I have to go for it).
I took the darbuka and began playing. The band is quite loud and there was no mike on me but I just played along.
After one song they put a mic on me and but the end they were announcing my name and giving me solos! It was soooooo fun!!!!!! I have a feeling I might become a regular member of this band soon!
Opening Party for Ofis!
I decided to have an opening party to introduce my ofis to the creme de la creme of the Istanbul music scene! I invited all of my favorite musicians! It will be Fri Sept 21! A few days after that I have a 10 day tour in Italy!!!!