I picked up this Cem Karaca Kardaşlar 45 on my trip to Istanbul a few years ago. The mother of the woman who owned the store recommended this record, saying Kardaşlar is one of her favorite bands from the 1970′s. I was more familiar with Barış Manço and Selda from Turkish psych comps that were popping up a the time and this seemed like as solid of a recommendation as any. After returning home and giving the record a spin I was pleased to find that it was exactly the East meets West Turkish fusion that I was trying to hunt down.
Cem Karaca got his start in an Elvis cover band, which seems to be a good of place to start in the early 1960′s. He moved onto a Turkish language band, Apaşlar (The Rowdies) by the late 60′s and fully moved into a strong rock-Anatolian fusion with Kardaşlar (The Brothers). For those keeping watch of their Turkish psych comps he also spent time in Moğollar and Dervişan. He has a fulsome discography, with Discogs listing 53 releases.
In the mid 1970′s, at what was his most creative period, Turkey was shuddering under political repression and coups. The turmoil in society bubbled up into pop music too. Barış Manço and Cem Karaca represented two opposing political currents and identities. Manço the nationalist-traditionalist stood on one pole and Karaca, the leftist-internationalist, stood on the other side. For some it was a political litmus test presented as taste. It might have been his mixed background that gave Karaca his more cosmopolitain outlook. Karaca fled the country in 1979 to see his citizen stripped and an arrest warrant issued a short time later. It was nearly a decade before he was pardoned and allowed to return.
In the early Oughts it was impossible to walk into a bodega and not hear Reggaeton playing loudly. Going in to by a beer was accompanied with a soundtrack by Don Omar, Calle 13, Daddy Yankee or Tego Calderon. Latin radio advertised heavily that Reggaeton was ruling the airwaves. Although the pop crossover didn’t happen to the degree expected you only have to stand a few moments on a street corner in Brooklyn or the Bronx to catch a snippet of the ubiquitous rhythm.
The root of the genre, and the singular beat has migrated from Puerto Rico to NYC and then globally, is based on a Dancehall single. 1991 saw the release of Shabba Ranks’ song Dem Bow. The Bobby Digital produced single was one in a massive run of Dancehall dominance by Shabba. Although many in pop listeners know Shabba’s cheesier side, he had Dancehall locked down in the early 90′s. Dem Bow was one of several hard hitting singles that he released. Dem Bow itself is a re-lick of the Steely & Cleevie produced, Gregory Peck DJ’d track, Poco Man Jam.
Listening to Shabba’s song you can hear the skeleton of Reggaeton but there is something missing. And when you hear the version track it is a bit closer but there is still something not quite right. The actual track that undergirds the many Reggaeton versions is a re-lick of Shabba’s single by Nando Boom. “Ellos Benia” takes Dem Bow and adds a slight bit of sonic Sofrito that then takes the Spanish Reggae scene by storm. Dem Bow and the re-lick were unstoppable in the Caribbean with English and Spanish artists getting up on their respective riddim.
What fascinates me is the both the widespread popularity of the versions of Dem Bow and its staying power. The 1990′s was an absolutely massive time for reggae riddims with many cut into versions a decade later, but none have the breadth of Dem Bow. I was on a flight in India watching Hindi movie videos to pass the time when I my jaw dropped upon hearing the open bars of Dakku Daddy. Buried within a masala intro were the bones of the Dem Bow riddim. IshQ Bector’s song was clearly the Indian re-lick of a Reggaeton beat, which itself is built upon a Reggae riddim that is a re-lick of an older riddim. This is the DNA of a riddim moving through time and place.
The musical signifiers of Dem Bow traveled well but less so the lyrics. Breaking down the patios finds lyrics typical to the Rasta rebellious Puritanism of time. On one hand Shabba is calling out oral sex as a vestige of colonial oppression (both the gay and straight variety). On the other chorus is giving a big-up to those who don’t bow to colonialism and oppressors. The problematic duality of raising demands of repression as signals of freedom in Dancehall is well discussed. What I find interesting is the moving the core track of Dem Bow away from English seemed to free up its lyrical space. In Spanish it is a rallying cry, a love song, a party song, etc, where in the Dancehall context other artists used the riddim to toast lyrics along the same theme.
The Dem Bow riddim is obviously rich culturally and I could research and say so much more. I have to give major props to two sources that I recommend and leaned on to learn about this song. Both by Wayne Marshall, there was, first, an article in Wax Poetics, and then later I found a more academic article by Mr. Marshall.
Dancehall 45s are always exciting because you never know what the Version side is going to bring. It can be the A side song without vocals, dubbed out, or some other thing entirely. On side A we have a young sounding Terry Ganzie with some nice, sparse, dancehall slackness. The flip, however, is a rad blend that I can’t really figure out. It starts with a Jungle Brothers sample from their hip-house phase, but from there I’m a bit lost. I can’t identify the riddim, and I can’t identify the vocal sample. But that doesn’t matter as it all comes together to make a jammer.
I doubt anyone remembers the details of when they download an MP3, but I can recall buying this record back in 1996. I was into punk but was always on a quest to find the “real” punk, which is a rabbit hole for sure. I heard that I needed to go to Fast Forward Records if I really wanted to see vault of punk records. After asking around to get a fix on the location I stood nervously in front of a dilapidated building in downtown Providence, RI. From the moment I walked in I knew it was the perfect place. Ascending the graffiti covered staircase to the third floor I had to pass a punk bar, The One Up, and a video and zine store called Newspeak. It felt like a journey to somewhere important.
A wall of noise, literally noise, greeted me as I took my first steps inside the store. I asked the guy behind the counter what it was; Merzbow he told me. There were bins of 7″ records, bins of LPs, a rack of CDs, t-shirts, posters — I looked around in awe at all the band’s names realizing that there were only a few that I recognized. I was unprepared for what was being sold in the shop — it was a far cry from Newbury Comics. The owner’s daughter wheeled around me on a tricycle amid third generation posters of Crass-esque artwork. I dove into the bins a bought a handful of 7″s, basically going by what looked “brutal” and punk as fuck. This Disrupt record had that in spades.
A few years ago I went to Turkey and while is was in Istanbul I poked around several record shops. Being a fan of Finders Keepers Records I imagined that the city was teeming with record stores that were stocked with psych/funk/folk records. Turns out that there are a fair number of record shops but not many of the carry the records that I was on the lookout for.
After several failed digs I was directed to a shop off of Istikal Caddesi in Taksim. I went in and the bins were filled with much of the western records that were in the other shops. I asked the lady behind the counter, who turned out to be the owner’s mother, about Turkish records from the 70′s. To overcome the language barrier I asked for Selda and Barış Manço and she said “Ahh! The records for foreigners!” and she pulled out a nicely organized box. The prices were labeled in dollars and Euros. Obviously, it wasn’t the locals who were interested in these records. As I was digging through the box a guy in the shop approached me and started to chat with me. After finding out I lived in New York he wanted to work out a way to trade for boogaloo and Salsoul records. I guess that sums up the mysterious Other well enough.
I ended up buying a handful of 45s because I was worried about how well they’d survive in my backpack. This Barış Manço is one of them. I wouldn’t put it among his best but it is a momento of the trip.