The music on The Turbans’ premiere release, The Turbans on Six Degrees Records, sounds like the opening to a joke. What happens when musicians from Turkey, Bulgaria, Israel, Iran, and England form a band and walk into a recording studio? A musical trip around the world that will blow your mind.
The Turbans is a high-octane collection of songs which seems to be the result of throwing the musical traditions of Eastern Europe, Spain, the Middle East, and India into a blender. The result is a musical experience unlike many you’ll ever have again. The playing is spectacular, the voices are thrilling and, in spite of an initial impression of chaos verging on the edge of insanity, you soon realize this is also one of the tightest bands you’ve heard in a while.
Of course, they’d have to be in order to bring off the mix of klezmer, Romany, flamenco, ragas and what ever other styles they’ve picked up while travelling the world together. For while this might be the band’s first full-length release, they’ve been touring around the world together for seven years. Founding members Oshan Mahony (guitar) and Darius Luke Thompson (violin), both half-British half-Iranian, met each other in India where they busked around the country and literally formed the band on the road.
In this incarnation they are joined by Miroslav Morski from Bulgaria (vocals and guitar), Greek Pavlos Mavromatakis (vocals), American Pablo Dominguez (cajon and flamenco guitar), Israeli, by way of Turkey and Tunisia, Moshe Zehavi (guitar), and from Belarus, Maxim Shcehedrovitzki (oud). Rounding out this incredible international line up as special guests are Simo Lagnawi, who sings lead vocals on “Hamouda”, a song from the Gnawa tradition of North Africa, and the London Bulgarian Choir provide haunting choral harmonies on the album’s second track, “Sinko Moy”.
“Sinko Moy” is one of the few songs on the album which deviates from the high tempo of the majority of the album. Sung and written by Morski, the title translates into English as “My Son”. Morski had to leave his family in Bulgaria when he moved to England because of visa problems. You can hear his yearning and sadness in almost every note played and sung.
However, the band brings the same energy and passion to every one of their songs. While passion might pull at your heartstrings on occasion, it can also play music that will have you cheering with celebration and dancing your feet off.
There have been a few Romany bands I’ve heard who might be able to keep pace with The Turbans when they’re under a full head of steam, but I’ve never heard anyone who is able to combine music from such a variety of cultural sources and not make it sound like a train wreck.
Years ago I saw a documentary (Latcho Drom – Romany for Safe Journey) that traced the migration of the Romany from their original home in Rajasthan, Northern India, to France and Spain. It travelled through Egypt, Turkey, Eastern Europe, France, and Spain.
Listening to the The Turbans, you can’t help hearing the connection between the music of all those countries. If you close your eyes while listening to this album, you can almost picture the music travelling the roads and waters used on that migration. You can hear the various cultures and traditions coming together to make the extraordinary music on this album.
The Turbans (don’t ask about the name – it has something to do with Mahony riding around India with a giant turban on his bicycle) have done something few others have managed – created real world music. Not only is their membership made up of people from a number of cultural backgrounds, the music on The Turbans reflects their diversity. However, don’t listen to this disc because of its provenance, listen to it because its a brilliant piece of work.
(Originally published at Blogcritics.org as Music Review: The Turbans - The Turbans)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.