cem-karaca1[xrr rating=3.75/5]Weirdo Records’ Angela Sawyer describes Cem Karaca’s voice as “the epitome of Turkish masculinity.” More than Edip Akbayram’s searching voice, Barış Manço’s sensitive rock croon or Erkin Koray’s boogie-band vocals, Karaca’s guttural sound may have been the most threatening rock voice in Anatolia. As much as I enjoy the Turkish rock reissues on the Pharaway Sounds and Guerssen labels, there is sometimes a disconnect between fuzz guitar and passionate vocals that don’t push the limits of their singer’s instrument. Akbayram, after all, refused to eat ice cream in order to save his voice. Karaca, on the other hand, sounds like the kind of vocalist who pushes his vocal cords to the breaking point, chain-smokes unfiltered cigarettes and eats ice cream by the gallon. His rough growls sometimes resemble a Middle Eastern Ozzy, and are the perfect, menacing fit for the prog-rock and folk-psych collected on Nem Kaldi.

The cover of Pharaway Sounds’ first Karaca reissue featured the longhaired Turk in signature big sunglasses and the counterculture uniform of the time: denim. His long blue-jeaned legs just out to the camera in a defiant, swaggering pose that seems to boast, “Hey, even sitting down I’m a badass.” On this album cover, he’s standing. Staring at the camera with his hands on his hips, Karaca dares you to mess with him. Karaca’s parents hoped to groom him as a diplomat, sending their young charge to a prestigious English language high school. When their son was recruited to sing vocals for Turkish instrumental band Apaşlar (Apachees), the elder Karaca supposedly paid audience members to boo his son. Cem Karaca was not discouraged, and from his expressive growl you can imagine such mercenary antagonism only fueled his resolve to rock out.

In 1972 Karaca joined Moğollar (The Mongols), Anatolian rockers who liked to use acoustic instruments. He left the group after two years and developed a harder rocking sound. Nem Kaldiis a 1975 collection of Karaca’s singles, so the album careens from the psychedelic rock of the title track (whose unusual time signature makes it clear why Turkish rockers often favored prog) to the brassy arrangement of “Oy Babo,” which sounds like it could have been the theme song to a Turkish James Bond movie.

Sawyer’s notes apologize for the diverse sounds that emerge from the singer’s many different collaborations, a result of the singer’s volatile personality. But this musical searching keeps the album from standing still as it turns from fuzz guitar to Pepper pomp to a gentle folk. Karaca sometimes adapted traditional folk poetry for his music, but despite those strange time signatures and occasional electric bağlama, this is among the most Western-sounding music to come from the Anatolian psych scene. Karaca’s volatility came to play politically as well, and in 1979 he was exiled from Turkey, remaining in Germany for nearly a decade before a more sympathetic government restored his citizenship.

This collection of singles features tracks that don’t get much longer than four minutes, which makes for concise arrangements, but even in that brevity there is room for experimentation. The fuzzy “Ihtarname” begins with a kind of dialogue between Karaca and an amplified typewriter, before he growls over a menacing beat, but this soon breaks down into an incongruous barrelhouse piano fragment of “Oh! Susanna!” The lyrics aren’t translated—who knows what’s going on there? The folky “O Leyli” recalls his days with Moğollar, its shifting acoustic rhythm guitar a wistful hook. The strong pop arrangements and variety of sounds, led by a charismatic vocalist, makes this one of Pharaway Sounds’ most enjoyable releases.

  • Edip Akbayram & Dostlar: Nedir Ne Degildir?

    [xrr rating=3.25/5]To this day, Edip Akbayram refuses to drink cold water or eat ice cream…
  • Fuzz: III

    An album strictly focused on continuing the Fuzz legacy, and for some, that’s all it needs…
  • PUP: This Place Sucks Ass EP

    The EP refuses to read as a naive “we’re gonna get through this just fine” narrative, but …
  • Surfer Blood: Carefree Theatre

    Carefree Theatre feels almost like catching up with old friends. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

The Dairy Restaurant: by Ben Katchor

Tells you far more than you thought you wanted to know about the subject, but the text and…